A Christian was sworn in as Malaysia’s top judge on 11 July 2018.
Tan Sri (Sir) Richard Malanjum has been appointed Chief Justice of the country’s Federal Court and is thought to be the first Christian to hold the post. Before being promoted to the Federal Court in 2015, the 65-year-old was chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak, which together comprise East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Sarawak is the only state in Malaysia where Christians are more numerous than Muslims, and Sabah also has traditionally had a strong Christian presence.
Tan Sri Malanjum has previously argued strongly in favour of Malaysian Christian converts from Islam being allowed to officially change their religion, i.e. without having to go through Malaysia’s sharia court system which would leave them open to being prosecuted for apostasy from Islam.
However, there are currently no indications that his appointment will lead to the reversal of the high court’s most recent ruling on the issue. In February 2018, a panel of five Federal Court judges ruled that four Christian converts from Sarawak who had requested to be able to remove their Muslim status from their compulsory identity cards would not be allowed to do so without permission from a sharia court.
Chief Justices typically retire at the age of 66, which Tan Sri Malanjum will reach in October, but it is expected that he will be allowed to remain in post a further six months, until April 2019.