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KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar said recent statements by Cabinet Minister Abdul Rahman Dahlan that Putrajaya will blacklist law firms which have contracts with government-linked companies but support Bersih reveals a decline in understanding the rule of law.

Its president, Steven Thiru, said to advocate that law firms and lawyers be punished for professing and practising the principle of the independence of the legal profession was to hold them to ransom.

“The action proposed by the minister is clearly unconstitutional as it reeks of prejudice and would contravene the protection against discrimination set out in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution,” Thiru said in a statement today.

He said Article 5 protected the right to life, which includes the right to a livelihood.

Thiru said any attempt to victimise lawyers or law firms would impinge upon this fundamental right.

He said the proposed action also contravened the Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice, better known as the Montreal Declaration.

The Bar’s reaction was in response to comments earlier this week by Rahman, who was reported to have stated that the government was looking at blacklisting companies that support the pro-democracy movement Bersih.

Civil society and political parties had also joined in the chorus to criticise Rahman, who is also Barisan Nasional’s strategic communications director.

Thiru said the apparent mindset that law firms and lawyers could be made scapegoats and be economically blackmailed if they acted in any matter that the government considered objectionable, was alarming and must be condemned.

“All right-thinking Malaysians must recoil from the sentiments reportedly expressed by the minister.”

Thiru said professionals, businesses and traders must not be penalised for providing goods or services to those whom the government arbitrarily labelled anti-government or deemed unpatriotic.

“The independence of the legal profession is a critical pillar of the rule of law,” he said, adding that the Bar urged Putrajaya to distance itself from the remarks made by Abdul Rahman.

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