He has argued in the past that Jalali's detention was illegal because no detention order was served on her.

Magendran Sababathy, her husband, had hired Karpal to fight for his wife's freedom.

Islamic religious police raided the couple's house in April and arrested her, on the charge of "illegally cohabiting" with a Hindu and for failing to produce any relevant marriage documents.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a human rights lawyer, has questioned the decision to separate Jalali from her husband.

"I don't think there's a legal basis for them to do it," he said on Saturday. 

"If she is saying that she is not a Muslim, the constitution guarantees her right to say that and nobody can order her to do anything other than that."

Counselling ordered

Meanwhile, a religious court has ordered another Malaysian woman who is trying to renounce Islam to undergo three months of counselling.

"If she is saying that
she is not a
Muslim, the constitution guarantees her right to say that and nobody can order her to do anything other than that"


Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, human rights lawyer
According to the New Straits Times newspaper, Siti Fatimah, 38, claims she originally converted from Buddhism to Islam in 1998 because she wanted to marry an Iranian man and never truly practised Islam.

Siti, an ethnic Chinese whose original name was Tan Ean Huang, filed a legal petition formally renouncing Islam in July 2006 after her marriage broke down.

On Friday, the Islamic sharia high court in northern Penang state directed Siti to undergo guidance and counselling under the state's Islamic religious department for three months.

The court is scheduled to rule on Siti's petition on December 3, after a report from the religious department detailing the progress of the counselling sessions.

Conflicting values

Just over half of Malaysia's 26 million people are Malays, who are Muslims by definition.

Ethnic Chinese and Indians form sizeable minorities and mainly practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism.

Last month, a 29-year-old woman said she was mentally tortured by Islamic religious police during her six-month detention for renouncing Islam in favour of the Hindu religion.

While in May, Lina Joy, a Christian convert, lost a battle in Malaysia's highest court to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card.

In delivering the judgment, the chief judge had said that the issue of apostasy was related to Islamic law, and civil courts could not intervene.