JOHOR BARU: The Bar Council and Article 11, an umbrella body of 13 non-governmental organisations, held their forum called “Federal Constitution: Protection for All” under close police watch yesterday.
Although some 500 people held a protest outside the hotel where the forum was being held, the closed-door event went on without a hitch.
The forum, which was attended by about 200 people, discussed constitutional issues pertaining to fundamental rights of Malaysians, transcending religion, race, cultural upbringing and gender.
Outside the hotel, policemen controlled the crowd of demonstrators who carried banners and slogans deriding the forum and proclaiming the sanctity of Islam. They had gathered long before the 9am opening of the forum.
Johor Baru (South) OCPD Asst Comm Roslan Ahmad advised the group to disperse and accompanied protest leaders – PAS state commissioner Datuk Dr Mahfodz Mohamed and the party's state Youth chief Mazlan Ahmad – to talk to the organisers.
Following this, the protesters agreed to disperse and the organisers agreed to end their function at 11.15am – nearly two hours ahead of the scheduled closing at 1.30pm.
Later, Johor Mentri Besar and state Umno chief Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman said the party was disappointed that the forum had been held, as it is already stated in the Constitution that Islam was the country’s official religion.
Interviewed after the forum, participants said they were satisfied that they had been given a chance to hold the event and thanked the police for being present throughout the proceedings.
Four men were detained, including one who had a Samurai sword and stick in the boot of his car. All four have since been released, pending an investigation.
The panel of speakers comprised National Human Rights Association deputy president and constitutional lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia legal adviser Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Women's Aid Organisation president Meera Samanther and All Women’s Action Society executive director Honey Tan Lay Ean.
Prof Dr Shad Faruqi said that the forum was a step forward for democracy.
National Human Rights Society executive council member and Bar Council human rights committee member Ramdas Tikamdas was the facilitator for the forum.