08/22/2006, 00.00
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Poster calling for death of lawyer involved in the Lina Joy case

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, a member of the Malaysian Bar Council, is the victim of an intimidatory campaign, because of the Council's support for the Christian convert from Islam in her appeal to the Federal Court. The Council was criticised in July by self-styled "defenders of Islam" appearing before civil courts.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – In Malaysia someone has been circulating a poster calling for death of a well-known attorney, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar who, acting as an observer on behalf of the Malaysian Bar Council (MBC), has followed the case of Lina Joy, a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity, currently before the courts in the appeal phase of her case. The controversial matter is still hotly debated in the country. As deputy chairman of National Human Rights Society in 2005, Malik was also one of the main members of a committee that asked the government to set up a national inter-faith commission.

MBC president Yeo Yang Poh condemned the poster as intimidatory and designed to put pressure on the attorney who is just performing his duties. "Our justice system demands that parties be given the right to be heard. Hence, it is the duty of every advocate and solicitor to present and state his client's case without fear or favour," Mr Yeo said.

Describing the circulation of the poster as "shameful", Mr Yeo said it was also an assault on the fundamentals of the nation's justice system. For this reason, he called on the authorities to launch an immediate investigation to identify the parties responsible.

For months now the Lina Joy case has enflamed Malaysian public opinion and legal system.

Ms Joy, who embraced Christianity in 1998, has demanded that the Department of Vital Statistics and the Court of Appeal remove Islam from her Malaysian Identity Card (which carries the religion of the bearer). She was refused in both cases forcing her to appeal to the Federal Court whose verdict is still pending.

In Malaysia two distinct legal systems coexist, one based on Islam, the other on the constitution, which often are in conflict. This is obvious in Lina Joy's case. On the one hand, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion; on the other, Islamic law bans conversion to another religion.

For weeks the Bar Council has been threatened by radical Islamic groups who consider it a partisan organisation since it has backed Ms Joy in her appeal. In July a group of "Lawyers for the Defence of Islam" or Peguam Pembela Islam (PPI) was set up to oppose the Bar Council. Their stated goal is to defend Islam from alleged attacks in civil courts and counter anyone who "advocates a secular state in which Islam would be subordinate to the constitution".

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See also
Muslim lawyers set up movement to "defend" Islam
Death threats against Lina Joy, fighting for her life and religious freedom
Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin released
Lina Joy affair sparks apostasy debate among Muslims
Prayer campaign for Lina Joy, the law does not allow her to convert to Christianity


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