Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “It’s the principle”

Last week LoyarBurok was abuzz with news about a lawyers’ protest in Bukit Aman on the abuse of power by the police. It culminated in the submission of a memorandum of protest against the police’s handling of lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad. With most things involving lawyers, who can make a pink elephant turn white, the culmination of one matter breathed life to a host of other issues. That’s why lawyers are arguably the great thinkers of nations.

It started with Haris Ibrahim at The People’s Parliament asking whether the event was a Bar or political party protest here. Views and comments from within the legal fraternity on the Rostrum e-group then surfaced at a frenzied pace.

The great thing about Malaysian activist lawyers is that they deeply care about the cause and you can hear it from the way the posts have been written. Truth be told, the raging arguments here have been debated before in various fora and other places of discourse such as Court canteens and pubs – for years on end now.

But they have never been documented in this way. Once again, LoyarBurok asks the Malaysian Bar how far are we prepared to go, nay, demand that the Bar takes it further! As a member once said in the Bar’s general meeting – while introducing a whole new way of pronouncing the word “fork” – do we take the “fork” to the right or the “fork” to the left?

Post-protest may have been a fallout , but it surely was not a washout. We will take the strength of each argument and take activism to a higher level. After minor editing for language, and to put the posts in context, LoyarBurok, with the consent of the writers, presents: “Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series

It’s the principle

I am not sure about how the rest felt but I was very happy that about 150 people, mostly lawyers turned up for the event despite the fact that it was bloody hot, on such short notice and on a working day.

But I believe some of the lawyers had gone home with mixed feelings about the protest, that it somehow became opposition-led (or “hijacked”) and therefore “tainted”; a cheap political stunt and even unbecoming of lawyers to hold banners!

In what way? Just because the prominent participants happen to be affiliated with opposition parties? Throughout the protest, none of them spoke on “political” issues but as lawyers who are similarly concerned with rights to counsel, fair trial and preventive detention, abuse of police powers, etc.

Although I was not at all surprised by such reactions but yet again disappointed that we have to explain and make sense to some of our fellow members of the Bar as to what it means to protest and make a stand based on principles.

Even if they did speak for the opposition, what is the problem if the issues raised are relevant and based on principles? These objectors don’t seem to have a problem in trying to get government officials/ministers to come to their events including the launch of the MyConstitution campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem if these officials can affect change but there should not be double standards just because they are opposition.

For those who did not attend the recent AGM, I have raised the question of the continuous breach of section 28A of the CPC and the denial of legal access to our clients. Unfortunately, there was no concrete answer as to what can be done. So when Amer was manhandled, what do you think we should have done? Another press statement, or just whine about it in the cyberspace? I don’t think so.

I don’t know about you, but I think in the minds of many lawyers and others who turned up – we were there not just in solidarity with our comrade Amer, but for the people’s rights that have been violated. Hence, the words on the banner: “PERTAHANKAN HAK GUAMAN RAKYAT – ARTIKEL 5 PERLEMBAGAAN.”

After all wasn’t it the Bar Council’s own campaign to “merakyatkan” the Constitution? Surely you can’t exclude the rakyat and politicians who are working with the rakyat?

I am glad that several Bar leaders like Ambiga, Ragunath, Edmund, Chee Wee, Andrew Khoo, George Varughese, Anand, and others came and did not think that what we did were not in the best traditions of the Malaysian Bar.

For those who have failed to see the proud history of our profession, let me remind you that great revolutions and movements have been led by lawyers not because they were lawyers but because they chose to stand with the people. The people did not follow these lawyers because of their performance in courts nor because they spoke within the confines of air-conditioned halls. They walked with the people.

I shudder to think how history would have turned out had the people including lawyers not followed Gandhi, Mandela, Obama (who are all lawyers by the way) but instead listened to these petty ideas of how lawyers should behave.


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6 Responses to Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “It’s the principle”

  1. Heard about this website from my friend. He pointed me here and informed me I'd discover what I require. He was right! I got all the questions I had, answered. Did not even get long to seek out it. Love the fact that you made it so easy for people like me.

  2. Irrespective of what one thinks, feels or wants – it is something of a sight to watch lawyers in their numbers ( though small) turning up in the defence of the citizens against Police Brutality.

    Brutality and arbitary shooting of persons have become honourable pastimes for the PDRM. They feel proud that they are doing their Nation a great service. Perhaps one of the causes may be the inability of present day Officers to conduct proper investigations and put uo proper Investigation Reports which will stand the test in the Courts.

    Someone or Everyone should tell the PDRM that the entire Force is being made a mockery by irresponsible and ignorant personnel not only in Malaysia but all over the world where citizen's rights, decorum and civility in conduct of oneself are the watchwords.

    Many Cities and States in the USA, Europe and Australia have brought in Police Chiefs from other jurisdictions to overhaul their putrid Police Forces. Hong Kong succeeded by adding on the Police Commission and today stands foremost as one of the most efficient and incorrupt Forces in the World.

    Malaysia's problem in addition to being political would also mean as to who would clean the Aegean stables of PDRM.

    Our King surely must be regretting the permission that had been given to the PDRM to use His Title.

  3. munirah

    i was there, briefly & quite late bcoz i was moved by what benjy's sister wrote, and bcoz I dont think anyone deserve to be treated that way – drugs or no drugs. had no idea some ppl thought the perhimpunan was hijacked by politicians until after- i just saw a bunch of lawyers doing their 'real' job :)(and i have been to a lot of politicised events so i know this one wasn't anything like that)

  4. Abdul Haleem

    I am not a lawyer but I hope this forum not only for lawyers.

    I did not join the rally in Bukit Aman due to work commitments. I am ashamed of myself.

    The post rally discussion starting from Brother Haris draw some attention here. As a member of civil society, I do put a lot of hope to members of the BAR regardless of their political affiliations.

    The ideology here is all about constitution and being bold to vocal any kind discrimination. If a lawyer can be manhandled in the court what do you think the fate of mass public?

    Can the members of BAR put all this behind and continue with more substance? Please don’t allow anyone out of this fraternity to turn this into a mockery

  5. Siti Kasim

    [Comment taken from Rostrum e-group. Used with permission.]

    Well, anyone who knows me would know that I don’t give a hoot for any political parties here. I was there purely because how Amer was treated as a lawyer and how the draconian law was used against this young boy.

    I disagree that Freedom of Association come into play here. Where there is a conflict or a possible misunderstanding such as this situation, one needs to sit back and think wisely on which hat is one going to wear for fear the AIM of the walk/protest/memorandum or whatever good cause that we are upholding will be diverted by this kind of accusation or rumour.

    When I say lawyers who are involved in politics should not be members of the Malaysian Bar, is when they are holding positions in the political parties within the government. Someone says to me that these people need to earn their bread and butter too… yes, I agree but one has to decide and make a choice, once one chooses the path of politics, one’s life is no longer private. If you make your bed in the name of politics, you need to lie in it. Whether its lucrative or not, one needs to choose one’s path.

    Of course each one of us has our own political views and affiliation. But once you hold an office within the political party, whatever you say or do, would be used against you for political reasons. This is the nature of politics. Somehow or rather, whether your intention is genuine or not, the whole action becomes tainted with politics.

    For example, when opposition parties’ YBs were there to give support but are not lawyers, any slur against the Malaysian Bar can be dispelled by pointing out that they were there as politicians who support this particular cause. But for lawyers who are also politicians who were there too, which hats were there wearing? They might be there as purely supporting the cause but remember this is politics, people will use every opportunity to slur the opposition and with this, the Malaysian Bar gets dragged in too…

    Well, that’s why I’ve always said – when lawyers become politicians, they should leave the Bar… hence, no blurring of lines on whether you are acting as a lawyer in the interest of the Bar or as a politician in the interest of his/her political party. I am not pointing any finger to anyone in particular ….far from it…

  6. Amer Hamzah Arshad

    [Comment taken from Rostrum e-group. Used with permission.]

    I fail to see how the Wednesday protest can be said to be hijacked by politicians. To enlighten those who are not aware, it was Suren and Latheefa who initiated the protest as they were very upset with what had happened to me any my client.

    So, when I related the incident to them, they didn’t see it as an issue which can be politicised. Instead, they saw a human rights violation/issue which needed to be addressed and so they mobilized people. Words went around and several MPs and politicians who are my friends, comrades and clients such as Sivarasa, Dr. Nasir, Dr. Jeyakumar, Manogar decided to attend and show support. I didn’t and don’t see any issue with their presence on that day. They came, just like the others who were there, because they believe in the issue. It wasn’t a political issue. It was a constitutional and human rights issue. They happen to be politicians, but that’s not a sin and should not be held against them.

    Even if the subject matter of the Wednesday protest was a political one, there’s nothing wrong with it because it’s the right thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with being political.

    As for the usage of banner during the protest, again I didn’t and don’t see any problem with it. What’s the difference between using a banner and distributing “My Consti” pamphlets on that day? None, as both aim to convey the same message i.e.: respect the constitutional rights of the rakyat.

    Lest we forget, lawyers have been using banners, placards and even loud hailers during protests and peaceful assemblies in the past e.g.: “Walk for Justice”, human rights day walks. It’s a form of expression and I believe we all believe in this notion.

    We may come from different backgrounds and political ideologies, but if we believe in a common cause why can’t we unite and fight together?