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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 05:45 GMT 06:45 UK
Malaysia rejects Christian appeal
Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Ms Joy was disowned by her family and forced to quit her job
Malaysia's highest court has rejected a Muslim convert's six-year battle to be legally recognised as a Christian.

A three-judge panel ruled that only the country's Sharia Court could let Azlina Jailani, now known as Lina Joy, remove the word Islam from her identity card.

Malaysia's constitution guarantees freedom of worship but says all ethnic Malays are Muslim. Under Sharia law, Muslims are not allowed to convert.

Ms Joy said she should not be bound by that law as she is no longer a Muslim.

Death threats

Malaysia's Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said the panel endorsed legal precedents giving Islamic Sharia courts jurisdiction over cases involving Muslims who want to convert.

About 200 protesters shouted "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great) outside the court when the ruling was announced.

"You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," Ahmad Fairuz said.

Ms Joy's case has tested the limits of religious freedom in Malaysia.

She started attending church in 1990 and was baptised in 1998.

In 2000, Ms Joy, 42, went to the High Court after the National Registration Department refused to remove "Islam" from the religion column on her identity card. The court said it was a matter for Sharia courts. Tuesday's ruling marked the end of her final appeal.

Ms Joy has been disowned by her family and forced to quit her job. She went into hiding last year. A Muslim lawyer who supported her case received death threats.

Sharia courts decide on civil cases involving Malaysian Muslims - nearly 60% of the country's 26 million people - while ethnic minorities such as Chinese and Indians are governed by civil courts in the multi-racial country.

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