Malaysian Lawyers have been arrested, and are being held in a police lock up without bail, just because they dared to hold a walk to celebrate International Human Rights Day.
PS Malaysia sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
It’s Sunday night, 9th December 2007. It’s not yet Human Rights Day as I now wait in Perth airport for my flight home to Kuala Lumpur.
I have been receiving a flurry of text messages all day about my lawyer friends, who have been arrested at the Human Rights Day Freedom Walk in Kuala Lumpur held earlier today. Amer Hamzah Arshad, Latheefa Koya, N Surendran and Sivarasa Rasiah were walking to get to the Bar Council auditorium, where the Festival of Rights was held in conjunction with International Human Rights Day. Together with them was Eric Paulsen, a non practising advocate and solicitor and several others.
I received these messages as I witnessed Falun Gong practitioners hold a peaceful march in Perth, where the police accompanied them with a police escort to ensure they were not disturbed. I saw Burmese refugees peacefully demonstrating in the middle of Perth’s busiest shopping district with not a policeman in sight.
On 10th December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Malaysia celebrated the 50th year of its endorsement of this noble charter for human dignity when we had our Merdeka celebrations earlier this year having joined the United Nations as an independent nation in 1957. The Bar was celebrating International Human Rights Day, together with the entire community of civilized nations.
Malaysia, who now incongruously sits on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council despite not having ratified most of the defining international covenants on human rights, will on International Human Rights Day charge these advocates and solicitors of the High Court in Malaya for the grave crime of walking without the permission of the government.
Edmund Bon, another friend of mine and Chair of the Human Rights Committee of the Malaysian Bar who recently won the thirs highest number of votes in elections to the Bar Council, was arrested as he tried to reason with DBKL enforcement officials who were attempting to trespass onto the Bar Council’s premises to remove banners.
As I write, these lawyers are spending the night in a police lock up because they have been denied bail. After all, the Constitution allows the police to detain suspects for investigations for up to 24 hours so the police obviously feel they should use the full time period to make their guests feel the full might of their brute force.
Never mind that all those arrested are well established lawyers. Who cares that all have close links to the community? Does it really matter that all would no doubt have willingly offered themselves to the police at everyone’s convenience for further questioning and investigations, if necessary? Of what consequence is the certainty that all would have obeyed a summons to Court to face charges against them?
What is important to the police is this: Malaysian lawyers must be taught a lesson. They are beginning to show the rakyat that Malaysians have rights. They have begun to display – overtly and effectively – a fierce independence. They constantly call for reform to ensure justice and fair play (hitherto unknown qualities in the machinery of the State in Malaysia since the full onslaught of Mahathirisation) become once again integral parts in the administration of this country.
Knowing my friends, however, I know they must be loving their time in the police cells. They know what to expect, having heard the horror stories from clients all these years about the gross conditions of detention.
The police will be at a loss to see my friends cheering, laughing and singing.
Those lawyers know they have won a great moral victory.
They have done absolutely nothing wrong. They walked peacefully in order to get to a destination to celebrate an international festival of the United Nations.
For this peaceful walk, they are being abused by the Government of Malaysia - a grim testimony indeed to the state of our democracy and the so called liberalisation of rights in Badawi’s Malaysia.
Malaysia Boleh .. tapi tak boleh Jalan! (Malaysia Can* .. but cannot walk!)
*Malaysia Boleh or Malaysia Can is the national feel good chant propagated by the Government. It is a phrase that evokes a wry and cynical smile from most thinking Malaysians.