The Bar Council said today it will not be cowed by last Saturday’s demonstration in protest against its forum on conversion to Islam and will continue to speak up on the legal aspects of the issue.
Its vice-president, Ragunath Kesevan, stressed that the council’s interest is in discussing and helping to resolve the conflict of laws and it had, at no point, challenged the validity of Islam in Malaysia or questioned Article 121 (1)(A) of the Federal Constitution, as alleged by certain quarters.
“We have to speak to the stakeholders (in this issue). We cannot drop the issue just because of pressure,” he told a press conference at the council office here.
On Saturday’s forum, which was cut short because of the rowdy protest by some 500 people, Ragunath said the forum was merely discussing the conflict of laws on matrimonial matters.
“We have reiterated, many times, in all our press statements that we do not question Article 121(1)A of the Federal Constitution. We accept the position and the rule of Article 121,” he said.
Ragunath said members of the council held a meeting after the incident on Saturday and nanimously supported the decision to hold the forum.
“We believe the issue is that of freedom of expression. If you cannot hold a meeting in a peaceful manner, I do not think we are mature enough to call ourselves a democratic society,” he said.
“If the Bar Council cannot organise such a forum, then who is to organise such a forum? This is not a sectarian forum being held in a church, temple or mosque. This is a forum organised by the council, involving everybody.
“We did not hold the forum in a football stadium or Dataran Merdeka. It was held in the council auditorium.”
He said that while attendance at the forum was open, it was controlled as the participants had to register first and it was held within the council’s premises.
Ragunath said legal conflicts such as what Malaysians are facing today are not peculiar to Malaysia “Any nation with two systems of law will face problems. But that does not mean the problems cannot be solved,” he said.
He said such forums were essential to resolving the conflicts.
“The first step to solving problems is to hear what the issues are. We need to understand the views of the Muslims, why they take that position. We need to understand the views of the non-Muslims as well before we impose a solution,” he said.
“There were many things that could have been discussed, to know how to go forward with these issues (conflict of laws). We have no problem listening to (proposed) solutions. We need to explore all solutions and proposals.”
Referring to advice to hold closed forums for such sensitive issues, Ragunath said he did not think it would work.
“You need to understand the problems faced by the people (through open sharing),” he said.
He also said last Saturday’s forum attracted a significant Muslim presence. “Fifty percent of the participants were Muslim,” he said.