Malaysia: Deregistering Muslim lawyers group against civil rights, LFL tells Karpal

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 — Civil rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) disagreed today with Karpal Singh’s suggestion to deregister the Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) and all other race-based bodies, reminding the DAP chairman that freedom of association is a basic human right.

Taking to Twitter to voice its objection to Karpal’s views, the LFL also alleged that the Registrar of Societies (RoS), the body that handles the registration of associations, is highly-politicised.

“It’s not a good suggestion, because registration in terms of societies is not needed under human rights. If you want to form an association you just need to get a group of people, and you can form one,” LFL co-founder Eric Paulsen later told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.

“Freedom of association is recognised as one of the civil liberties. It’s a basic human right that a group of people can form an association.”

Earlier today, Karpal had said that all religious and race-based professional or political bodies should be deregistered, singling out the MLA as an example.

The veteran politician said the MLA should not have been allowed to be formed in the first place as the existing Bar Council was already an adequate professional body that represents all lawyers in the country

The Bukit Gelugor MP said MLA’s registration should be revoked, insisting it was a serious matter that Muslim lawyers are allowed to form separate associations based on religion.

Paulsen noted that even as Karpal made that suggestion today, his own party DAP had been mired in a controversy involving RoS, after the latter threatened to register the former over a party election fiasco in December 2012.

“We can see from the politics surrounding registration, DAP had got into trouble with the RoS… RoS is quite infamous for being highly politicised. Many NGOs have not been able to register as societies precisely because of this politicisation,” Paulsen added.

Paulsen noted that a number of long-standing NGOs such as human rights watchdog Suaram, women’s rights advocates Women’s Aid Organisation and Sisters in Islam had not been able to register as societies, leaving them the only option to register as companies.

Despite disagreeing with Karpal’s suggestion, Paulsen also slammed the MLA, which he alleged was only formed to run counter to the Malaysian Bar for the benefit of Umno and the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).

“Just look at the statements over the past years, the history of MLA, it was done as the counterweight to the Malaysian Bar.

“The Malaysian Bar has been quite vocal for many decades, and active in progressive human rights issues,” said Paulsen.

Paulsen recalled that the Bar took a strong position in the 1988 Malaysian constitutional crisis, which saw the sacking of the then Lord President of the Supreme Court, Tun Salleh Abas, and two other judges.

As a result, the MLA had formed proposals to directly challenge the direct authority of the Bar Council, he pointed out.

“One of the most notorious proposals was put forward by then-president, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim. He was the founding president,” Paulsen pointed out.

According to Paulsen, Zaid had proposed to force then-Law Minister Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar to become the president of Bar Council through legal means instead of an election.

The proposal by MLA then included amending the Legal Profession Act to make a law minister the head of the Bar Council, Paulsen related.

Karpal’s criticisms against MLA today come in light of the association’s recent threat against the Malaysian Bar Council when it warned the body against backing Catholic weekly Herald’s appeal against the Court of Appeal ruling that banned it from using the word “Allah”.

MLA president Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar had cautioned the Bar Council against taking a partisan stand in the spat that is deepening a gulf in multi-religious Malaysia.

He reminded the Bar Council that the majority of its members were Muslims, and stressed that the views of a “few scattered Muslim members” in support of the Church did not represent the sentiments of its mainstream that number in the “thousands”.

Responding yesterday, the Bar Council urged the authorities to stop turning a blind eye to threats after a Muslim law group warned it against backing the Catholic Church’s court appeal for the right to call God “Allah”.

Council president Christopher Leong also stressed that the Malaysian Bar and the Bar Council are secular bodies that are not partial to any religious beliefs.