I attended a forum organised by the DAP on the impact and implication of the Lina Joy landmark decision at the Federal Court. The forum was very well attended - more than 500 people.
The panel speakers were Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia Bar Council President; Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, PKR Secretary-General; Yusri Mohammad, President of Angkatan Belia Islam (ABIM); Dr Azmi Sharom, Associate Professor, Universiti Malaya; Leonard Teoh, Legal Advisor to Malaysia's Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS); Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader and Lim Guan Eng, DAP Secretary-General. It was chaired by DAP's Tony Pua.
I am especially impressed with the presentation from Bar Council President Ambiga and Dr Azmi Sharom who dealt with the issue technically, legally, professionally and logically.
Ambiga voiced out the concern of the legal fraternity on the interpretation of the federal constitutions based on Article 4 (federal constitutions as the supreme law of the land), Article 11 (freedom of religion), Article 121 (1A) and the scope of syariah courts.
Ambiga pointed out that her interpretation of the Lina Joy case was purely legalistic. She said that since 1999, there has been a tendency of the civil courts to imply its judgement on the scope of syariah courts. It is clear in the federal constitutions that the syariah courts do not have provision over non-muslims despite the call by both PAS and UMNO leaders for non-muslims to seek judgement from the courts.
She pointed out the the arguement that muslims are willing to be adjudicated in the civil courts and non-muslims should similarly be able to accept the syariah courts was faulty. Syariah courts are religious in nature while the civil courts are secular (non-religious). Hence, it is not proper to ask a person of a different faith to be judged by a religious court of other faith. Moreover, she insisted that the spirit of the federal constitutions is very clear on the legal direction of Malaysia which is to remain secular.
Dr Azmi opined that since the highest law of the land is the federal constitutions, those who are not comfortable with the secular laws and wanted an Islamic state law should accept current reality. If they seek changes, they must do it through proper and legal admendments of the constitutions. He said that is what democracy is about. Changes to the federal constitutions cannot be implied or done through other indirect ways i.e. administrative, executive or judiciary interference.
Yusri of ABIM argued that all matters related to Islam must be tackle by the syariah courts. He said that there is no concensus on human rights. I told Yusri that I did not agree with his thought.
I agree with Ambiga that the fundamental human rights are well spelt out in the constitutions including the freedom to practice one's religion. Human rights contained in the constitutions are focused on the rights guaranteed for an individual and not the community. The community cannot, by a majority decision, decide to strip his fundamental rights from him.
From my observation, the division on the Lina Joy case is deep and worrying. The question on authority is obvious. Malaysians must quickly decide if they should continue to respect the federal constitutions as the supreme authority and the laws of the land or otherwise. At present, the judiciary interpretation of the Lina Joy case is set to divide Malaysians especially muslims and non-muslims apart - legally.
Khalid pointed out that there are issues of consistency in the syariah courts. He said this issue must be resolved quickly.
I am not sure if more dialogue is going to lead us to a solution soon. What is key is that Malaysia, in its 50 years of nationhood, is at the crossroads.