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BAR COUNCIL FORUM ON CONVERSION

This posting contains three reports as appeared in Bar Council website.

*Bar forum on conversions stopped after one hour
*No more such open discussions, says Bar chief
•*Forum cut short to avoid tension, says Syed Hamid

Bar forum on conversions stopped after one hour
by Alang Bendahara
NST

KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council public forum on conversion to Islam on its premises here yesterday was stopped after about an hour on the advice of the police.

Police had advised the organiser to do so in view of the danger posed by protesters against the forum participants, Dang Wangi district police chief Assistant Commissioner Zulkarnain Abd Rahman said.

"We have the authority to tell them that (at any event) if there is a threat towards the public."

Zulkarnain said council members had abided by the police advice.

He said police found two bottles of unknown substances on the steps in front of the building in Leboh Pasar Besar, which were taken away by a bomb disposal unit for examination.

Hundreds of representatives and members of 29 Muslim non-governmental organisations and political parties had gathered in stages in front of the council's building from 8am.

Some 100 policemen were deployed and Federal Reserve Unit personnel had formed two lines in front of the building entrance to block the crowd.

The crowd carried banners written with words such as "Don't Challenge Islam" and shouted calls through hailers towards the building, demanding a stop to the forum.

Among the protesters were Peninsular Malay Students Federation vice-president Jais Abdul Kari, Muslim Consumers Association of Mal-aysia complaint officer Imran Yusof, Pas Youth chief Salahuddin Ayub, who is also Kubang Kerian member of parliament, Muslim Organisations in Defence of Islam (Pembela) exco member Zulkifli Noordin, who is also Kulim Bandar Baharu MP, and Pekida Malaysia supreme council member Mohd Syahrir Abdul Aziz.

At 9.30am, after a meeting with Zulkarnain, Zulkifli addressed the crowd and told them that the Dang Wangi police chief had got the council to call off the forum at 10am.

Zulkifli and several of the protesting leaders then went into the building and appeared again at 10.30am.

By 10.40am, the crowd had cleared the area, giving a chance to the forum members to leave the building without police escort.

Later, Zulkifli said although he was satisfied that the target to stop the forum was achieved, the protesting leaders would pursue a formal apology from the council.

"We are also issuing it a warning not to hold such a public forum again."

No more such open discussions, says Bar chief

KUALA LUMPUR: Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said it would hold no more open forums on Muslim conversion after one was cut short by protesters yesterday.

The forum, titled "Conversion to Islam: Article 121(1a) of the Federal Constitution: Subashini and Shamala Revisited", scheduled for half a day from 9am, lasted for an hour.

Midway through the second session, Ambiga announced that she was submitting to police advice to call off the event.

"Due to security concerns, we have been advised by the police to wrap it up by 10am."

By then, three women had narrated their experiences including the legal implications of their family members' conversion to Islam.

In the second session, lawyers Mohd Haniff Khatri Abdulla, K. Shanmuga and Ravi Nekoo spoke on the legal wrangles in the R. Subashini and S. Shamala cases after their husbands had converted to Islam without their knowledge.

The forum was moderated by Zarizana Abdul Aziz of the Women's Centre for Change.

Police allowed in three representatives of the demonstrators led by lawyer and Kulim Bandar Baharu member of parliament Zulkifli Noordin of Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

They demanded a stop to the forum on the grounds that it touched on religious sensitivities. Heated words were exchanged between some members of the floor and the trio before police cooled the situation.

Before closing the forum, Ambiga said it was never the council's intention to upset any party.

"We have no issue or quarrel with anyone who has a different point of view.

"We respect everybody's views in this building and that is what the Bar Council is about."

She later said the organisers had expected the representatives to engage in discussions when they were allowed in.

"Instead, they turned emotional and we are disappointed."

There were no plans for another forum in the future, she said.

"Even if we do have one, we would prefer to hold it behind closed doors."

Over the previous two days, political leaders from both government and opposition had cautioned the council that an open discussion of such a sensitive subject would spark a backlash.

The council ignored the warnings and proceeded with the forum.

Forum cut short to avoid tension, says Syed Hamid

KOTA TINGGI: The forum by the Bar Council in the federal capital was ended early yesterday to avoid tension and prevent the situation from getting out of control, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said.

"We didn't want the anger to lead to any untoward incident," he said in a Bernama report.

Police did well in controlling the situation, he said.

Syed Hamid said he hoped the council got the message that "there are certain things that are out of bounds for public discussion, even if held in a private place".

He said cases involving the conversion of a person to Islam could be referred to the courts for resolution.

In Ipoh, Gerakan national legal bureau chairman Datuk Chang Ko Youn said the forum should have been allowed to go on.

"There are many ancillary issues arising out of the provisions of Article 121(1a) and these must be resolved fast. I believe the forum, if it was allowed to go to its full length, could have found solutions to some of the issues."

Chang, who is also Gerakan vice-president, said the council should not be accused of fanning religious or racial sentiments or being disrespectful to Muslims for organising the forum.

A broad spectrum of Muslim opinion have opposed what they consider to be a public questioning of the status of Islam in the country.




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