Twelve non-governmental organisations today signed a joint statement, denouncing the high-handed action taken by Muslim protestors and the police to stop an open discussion on legal issues related to the conversion to Islam.
Organised by the Bar Council and held last Saturday, the open forum entitled ‘Conversion to Islam’ was forced to end early on the advice of police after an unruly demonstration outside the meeting hall threatened to get out of hand.“The blatant double standards employed by government and police in dealing with the protestors and the forum subject raises questions about the even handed and fair treatment accorded to all religions,” the NGOs said in their joint statement.The NGOs also blasted the police for bowing to pressure from the protestors instead of protecting the Bar Council.Some Muslim groups have vigorously opposed the dialogue on the fear that it could be used as a platform to provoke sensitivities and criticise their religion. The government too has been reluctant to promote open interfaith dialogue on the grounds that it could incite racial discord.
The NGOs however rebutted that while it was necessary for Malaysians to be mindful of religious sensitivities, extreme acts aimed at curbing legitimate public discussion should not be condoned.“In the Bar Council’s case, the forum was aimed at helping clarify legal and administrative provisions on religious conversion issues which could have provided useful inputs on helping resolve recent controversial developments,” the group said.“In fact, the organisers had taken the initiative to invite distinguished speakers from the Federal Territory Religious Affairs Department and Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia, although both withdrew after the forum was demonised by some quarters,” the NGOs lamented.The group also expressed disappointment that parliamentarians from PAS (Sallahudin Ayob) and PKR (Zulkifli Nordin) were actively involved in the protest.“Finally, we note with concern and condemn the petrol bombs attack directed at the previous house of Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan. We hope that there is no connection between that act and the role of the Bar Council in organising the seminar and call on the authorities to fully investigate that action and bring the perpetrators to book,” said the NGOs.
Abusive language 'un-Islamic'Meanwhile, Pergerakan Progresif Mahasiswa Islam (Promis) and Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit) have also condemned the aggressive nature of the demonstration.“The use of abusive language, aggression and threats to halt the forum are un-Islamic, undemocratic and goes against the principles of Islam,” Promis said in a statement.“We also condemn the act of passing judgment on the forum based on assumptions only.”Promis said instead of disrupting the dialogue, the protestors should have first attended the forum to find out if it was really aimed at insulting the religion.“If they (the leaders) were not even inside, how would they know if the forum was aimed at attacking Islam. It would have been better if the protestors attended the forum and gave their own views and opinions instead of sullying the image of Islam,” it added.In a separate statement, Jerit said: “Freedom of religion is fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) and guaranteed by the Federal Constitution (Article 11).“This basic constitutional right should not be overruled by the authorities or by mainstream interpretation of religion.”
Criticisms from MCA MCA politicians also spoke out against the conduct of the protestors, with the party's Wanita deputy chief Chew Mei Fun stating that issues should be allowed to be discussed."We cannot just treat every issue as sensitive. In fact the Bar Council forum was a platform for various groups to engage in discussion in a peaceful manner in seeking a solution."The organizers did not intend to confront anybody but to hear the different perspectives and sought to find a solution to avoid these issues from repeatedly occurring," said the former PJ Utara MP.