Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Saturday, 9th August 2008: 

Half-day Bar Council forum on conversion to Islam disrupted at 10 am - a most adverse reflection on police upholding of law and order as well as religious harmony in Malaysia on the eve of 51st Merdeka anniversary

The police yielding to pressure to disrupt the half-day Bar Council forum on conversion to Islam at 10 am in Kuala Lumpur today is a most adverse reflection on law and order as well as religious harmony in Malaysia on the eve of the 51st Merdeka anniversary.

Malaysia has failed a major test in nation-building to demonstrate that we are shaping up to be a more civil society where sensitive issues of inter-faith problems can be discussed in a mature and responsible manner to promote national unity and religious harmony in the country.

As the Bar Council has made it clear that the forum on religious conversion is not to question the provisions of Article 121(1A) of the Constitution which conferred syariah jurisdiction over Muslims but to address the conflicts of laws facing families caught between the separate jurisdictions of civil and syariah laws, greater understanding, tolerance and sensitivity should have been shown by all Malaysians concerned.

Such understanding, tolerance and sensitivity would undoubtedly have been present in the first four decades of Malaysian nationhood and I have no doubt that if such a forum had been organised ten years ago, there would not have been the insensitive, intolerant and deplorable reaction evident today.

The Police failed in its duty when instead of upholding the law, they sided with the protestors in ensuring the abrupt end of the half-day forum at 10 am.

Are there any Cabinet Ministers who are prepared to raise this episode at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting to uphold the right to have such forums to be held?

This is unlikely considering the public stand that has been taken by Umno leaders, including the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, Home Minister, Hamid Albar, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and the Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein demanding that the Bar Council forum should be called off.

Hishammuddin even warned that the Bar Council should not “test the patience of the Malays and Muslims” while the Malacca Chief Minister Mohd Ali Rustam said the Internal Security Act should be used purportedly for the continued questioning of Article 121 of the Federal Constitution “resulting in racial tension”.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor