Apostasy hearing ruckus: Rowdy behaviour common on judgement day, but not encouraged, says Abdul Karim

Abdul Karim speaks to reporters after chairing a meeting at Bangunan Baitulmakmur, Petra Jaya, Kuching.

KUCHING, Mac 1: It is common to see groups of people celebrating or intimidating their opponents outside the court room after they have won a case.

Referring to the recent incident where Catholic Archbishop Most Reverend Fr Simon Poh was jeered at after the judgement on the jurisdiction to hear apostasy cases involving four individuals, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said such an occurrence was to be expected and not that isolated.

He cited as an example a native customary rights (NCR) case, where people from all over the state, some even from the interiors of Sibu, Bintulu and Baram, came in droves to the Kuching court complex with their traditional outfits and ceremonial accessories, and nobody made a fuss about it.

“These aren’t really isolated. When a case is won, you will see jubilation. Sometimes when the case involves native customary rights for example, you see many people coming down even from the interior of Baram, Sibu and Bintulu. Nobody commented about this, those who come with their head gears, their gongs and ceremonial accessories. They were even given pamphlets, and nobody made a fuss about that.

“In my opinion, I understand why people were like that when they won the case and began shouting “Allahu akbar” whatsoever. But they did not cause any physical harm from what I see.

“Nobody got hurt or got punched. We also cannot stop people viraling (posts and videos of) the Archbishop getting attacked on Facebook. This is a free country, you can write whatever you want as long as you don’t transgress the matter,” Abdul Karim told reporters this morning.

Nonetheless, despite the commonness of such an incident, he said, it is not encouraged and he hoped this could be a lesson not only to the Muslims but also people of other faiths that religious issues are not to be taken lightly as it is something dear to its believers.

“So for politician-lawyers like me, we have to be very careful in whatever we do or say, whether Christian or Muslim. I do know that some couple of days before the judgment, things were being viraled out, and people were encouraging each other to come to the court in droves. So you would (expect to) see a lot of people coming,” he said.

Abdul Karim advised his politician-lawyer colleagues to be very careful when dealing with and addressing interfaith related matters as this could easily arouse people as religious matters are very sensitive. This, he added, would include lawyers handling those cases.

“Being a lawyer myself I always see this kind of things in court. Like when a thief was freed from the charge and the court freed him, the people made a commotion. Because when you are in court it is a question of winning or losing. So winners will definitely celebrate. I can’t imagine if they were to lose instead,” he said.

Asked if the group that caused the ruckus were outsiders, Karim said: “I doubt it. When I saw the photos and videos I knew they were locals.”

Last Tuesday, Catholic Archbishop Fr Simon Poh was jeered at by rowdy youths outside the court room after the Federal Court hearing of the apostasy case.

Photos and videos of the youths attempting to get close to Poh have been circulating online and on social media channels. One of the videos which was uploaded by a news portal for a national newspaper showed a man dressed in a black shirt who appeared to be attempting to lay hands on Poh as the latter was leaving the courthouse, but the man was quickly pushed aside by another man dressed in Muslim garb who was part of a group of people who formed a protective cordon around the archbishop.

Screenshot of the video showing the Muslim man pushing aside another man who appeared to be attempting to lay hands on Poh after the hearing.

Although there was no physical harm done, the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) in a statement later said that it would be making a police report against individuals who showed unruly behaviour toward the Catholic Archbishop.

On the death threat made towards Baru Bian, the lawyer who represented the appellants who is also PKR Sarawak chairman, Abdul Karim said it was not wise for the culprit to do so as enforcement agencies like the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and the police will definitely track him down.

“I hope whoever that person is is not serious about it. This is a peace-loving country, you don’t have to get too emotional and make this kind of threat,” he said. — DayakDaily