Saturday, August 09, 2008

Bar Council Forum on Article 121 (1A)

In the light of protests made over the forum which was scheduled to be held today, I had issued a press statement defending the forum and the Bar Council yesterday. My comments on what happened at the forum today with protests led by the Member of Parliament from Kulim-Bandar Baharu is blogged here separately.

The Bar Council intends to hold the forum entitled “Conversion to Islam: Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini and Shamala Revisited” within its premises on Aug 9.

However, its plans has been met with immediate protests from UMNO Youth, PAS and even the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak himself.

Executive Council member of UMNO Youth, Datuk Pirdaus Ismail was reported to have issued the warning “Don’t play with fire! Don’t ever touch religious and racial (matters)!" He even asserted that “It is pointless to organise forums based on intellectualism, professionalism or controversial issues when the safety, peace, harmony and stability of the country were being compromised.”

PAS party president, Abdul Hadi Awang argued that “although, PAS accepts the freedom of expression of various parties to dialogue and discuss issues of public interest, nevertheless, issues concerning Islam is something already guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.” According to Hadi, any discussion pertaining Islam, said Hadi, should involve those who had sufficient knowledge and are authorities in the subject as it will otherwise “only confuse the real understanding of Islam and cause undue tension.”

At the same time, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak chipped in that the Bar Council Malaysia's proposed forum entitled Conversion to Islam is unsuitable to held in an open manner.
  1. Firstly, the entire basis of such a forum being held is due to the controversies and parties victimised as a result of difference in interpretations of Article 121 (1A). Hence a forum held to discuss these differences is certainly constructive towards setting a foundation for “safety, peace, harmony and stability of the country”, as opposed to the threats issued by UMNO Youth.

  2. Secondly, the question that is discussed is a question of law and not a question of religion. This means that the status of Islam as the official religion of the Federation is unquestioned. The forum does not seek to interpret Islam which is the role of the theologians, but to understand, interpret and make constructive suggestions on the law in the interest of all Malaysians.

  3. Thirdly, by demanding that the forum be “closed” in nature, the Deputy Prime Minister is in fact denying the rights of Malaysians to better understand the laws of the land. If ignorance of the law is not a justifiable excuse in the courts of law, then surely, law-abiding citizens must not be denied opportunities seek a better understanding of the law and its implications.
The DAP stands firm that there are probably no better party to organise and lead discussions on the Constitution and the laws of Malaysia than the Bar Council. It will make a complete mockery of our legal and judicial system if its very practitioners are denied opportunities to discuss or explain our laws.
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