Monday, August 11, 2008

Federal Govt asked to sort out legal conflicts urgently

Himanshu Bhatt and Husna Yusop
GEORGE TOWN (Aug 10, 2008): Gerakan acting president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon has called on the federal government to urgently convene a meeting of the joint committee of civil and syariah lawyers to discuss and recommend proper procedures related to marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, and issues such as conversion, custody of children and burial ritual after death.

He said the committee, which was formed to work out solutions following several controversies related to Muslim converts after death and after breakdown of marriages, should be reconvened.

"It is urgent to reconvene this committee which, I am told, has not met for quite some time," Koh said in a statement today.

"Such issues and procedures, if left unresolved without good mutual understanding, will continue to haunt the multi-religious society of Malaysia," he said.

"There will be controversy and even conflicts over family matters related to religious conversion."

He made this statement in the wake of the fracas over the open forum on conversion to Islam organised by the Bar Council on Saturday. The forum was cut short because of a noisy protest which disrupted proceedings.

Former Suhakam commissioner Dr Mehrun Siraj shared Koh's view, when she urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to amend the civil laws to resolve the conflicts between a Muslim convert and a non-converting spouse.

She said the lawyers had previously proposed that a section of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 be amended, but to date, nothing has come out of it. She said there should be no further delay in resolving this long-standing issue. (see also page four)

On Saturday, some 500 people gathered outside the forum venue in downtown Kuala Lumpur, asking for it to stop. Several of the demonstrators, accompanied by policemen, later went into the hall where the forum was being held, and engaged in a verbal tirade with the organisers.

Koh criticised the "rowdy demonstration" and also condemned the fire bombing of the former house of Bar Council President Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, which is now the house of Wanita Umno deputy chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.

"It is regrettable that some members of political parties such as PAS, PKR and Umno were involved in the demonstration," Koh said, adding that strong words were used PAS Youth chief Datuk Salahuddin Ayub, who is also Kubang Kerian MP, and Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Nordin of PKR.

"All politicians must take a rational and reasonable approach to look at how to fine-tune the relevant laws and procedures to avoid or minimise potential inter-religious controversies and conflicts," he stressed.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, when asked about the matter, said the reaction to the forum was "expected" and that was why they had advised the Bar Council to hold a closed forum instead. However, he said, the Council was "stubborn" and ignored the advice. (seals: hmmmm)

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