KUCHING: State Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chairman Baru Bian said the knee-jerk reaction of some members of the community in hurling insults and abuse at him, and even calling for his death, after the Federal Court’s decision on the apostasy cases on Tuesday clearly shows that they do not know the background of the cases and how the legal trials and tribulations of the four individuals have come to this.
“I was out of town attending another case when the decision was delivered, and upon my return last night, I was saddened and shocked to see the videos and postings, and the statement by a PAS central committee member against me,” he said in a press statement today.
Baru, who is Ba Kelalan assemblyman, categorically refuted the allegations that he was ‘Christianising’ Muslims or making Muslims ‘murtad’, adding that these four persons only came to see him when they had run out of options in negotiating their release from Islam, and by the time he met them, they had long ceased to be practising Muslims.
“So to accuse me of making them ‘murtad’ is a vicious slander, and I am disappointed that those who profess to practise their religious faith should make these false accusations against me. Nevertheless, my own religious conviction compels me to forgive and love them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
According to him, it is the system that has failed these individuals and the four persons had done everything that they were asked to do, and yet, the release they wanted was never given.
“Their letters to JAIS (Sarawak Islamic Affairs Department) were ignored. In one case, letters to the JPN (National Registration Department) and the CM’s (Chief Minister’s) office also met with no response.”
In noting that the details of each case differ, Baru said he only took up these cases after the applicants had hit the proverbial brick wall.
“After taking on the cases, my legal firm had been informed that the Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN) required a letter of release from the Syariah Court in order for them to amend the applicants’ identity cards and particulars in their system.
“However, when we inquired from and/or applied for such letters from the Syariah Court, we received a letter from the court to say that they had no power to issue such letters of release under the Syariah Court Ordinance Sarawak 2001.
“Hence the legal proceedings had to be filed in the civil High Court for its opinion. Contrary to the Syariah Court’s letter, lawyers for JAIS, Majlis Agama Islam Sarawak (MAIS) and the JPN argued that the Syariah Court has the implied power to deal with apostasy.”
Baru said as the the law was not clear on the matter, the issue had to be brought all the way to the Federal Court which finally made its decision on Tuesday morning that the Syariah Court has the jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases.
“The legal issue is now settled. Because I believe, and many believe, in the Rule of Law and that the Federal Constitution is the supreme law of this country (Article 4 of the Federal Constitution) on which our Courts had been established, we accept the final verdict of the Federal Court.”
Baru blasted those who accuse him of having a Christian agenda by representing these four individuals free-of-charge as “blatant liars”.
“I have been representing them in my professional capacity as a lawyer and they have paid my professional fees and court fees.
“Those who make up lies about me clearly have political motives or have deep-seated insecurity about their own religious convictions. If I had any Christian agenda, then the authorities should have taken action against me.
“And if these converts were wrong to convert out of Islam, then JAIS or MAIS or the Syariah Court should have charged them when they informed them of their intention to leave Islam or when they were called for counselling.”
In representing these four individuals, Baru said he was merely carrying out his responsibilities as an advocate who believed in access to justice for all.
“The ‘Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers’ adopted by the 8th United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offences (‘the UN Principles’) in 1990 and intended to assist member states says this: 14. Lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognised by national and international law and shall at all times act freely and diligently in accordance with the law and recognised standards and ethics of the legal profession.”
In noting that the Federal Constitution guarantees these four persons their freedom of religion, Baru asked: “Who are the State and her institutions to deny them these rights? Why are my accusers so twisted that they do not realise that in speaking up for these four individuals, I am upholding the right of every Malaysian to practise the religion of his or her choosing?”
Baru added that it was indeed tragic that some segments of Malaysian society had regressed so much that they did not exercise independent thought and were so blinded by racial and religious bigotry that they did not see the wood for the trees.
“In Sarawak, freedom of religion and the absence of an official religion were fiercely defended by our forefathers. This has allowed us to live in religious and racial harmony for many years.
“I will continue to defend these rights as long as I am able to, without fear or favour, both as an advocate and as a representative of the people, mindful always of the responsibilities imposed on me in both roles to preserve, protect and defend the Sarawak Constitution and the Federal Constitution.”