Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “Don’t ask irrelevant questions”

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

Don’t ask irrelevant questions

Last week, about 100 people protested outside Bukit Aman against the police’s mistreatment of Amer Hamzah Arshad, a lawyer.

Haris Ibrahim at the People’s Parliament recounted the story of how one of his friends criticised the organising of the protest as somehow linked to PKR.

Below is a comment in response to this from one of the 2 lawyers who organised the protest, whom I have the privilege to know personally and is a friend I can always bug despite his busy schedule every time I need guidance in doing some public interest cases, N. Surendran:

I was one of the main organisers of this event. When Haris’ friend said we are affiIiated with PKR, I presume she is referring to the fact that over the years I have worked closely and very publicly with PKR and its people on human rights issues.

The fight for Freedom in this country, has been a long hard fight, with no end yet in sight. And some of the most dedicated and selfless fighters in this cause have been PKR women and men, with whom I have had the great privilege to work with. They were Resolute at a time when the only thing one could expect from being in the opposition, was arrest, imprisonment and beatings. Some of the finest human beings I have met are in opposition politics. To suggest that it is somehow below us lawyers to associate ourselves with the likes of these people, is a slur I cannot let pass without remark.

In any event,how will joining hands with the political opposition in taking up a just cause, a cause such as Amer’s, prejudice the independence of the Bar? Surely, we must be judged by the quality of the cause we take up, and not by who we join hands with in taking it up. In the twisted rulebook of the Government,the Bar must not associate itself with the opposition, no matter what. Are we so many sheep that we must follow their odious self-serving rules?

Following the protest on Wednesday, words or rather accusations have been flying around. It happened to reach my ears and I have the urge to bring this up so that every lawyer who attended yesterday’s protest has the right to defend themselves.

It never fails to amuse me since the day that I started practice to hear lawyers commenting, “Hey that event is led by someone who is affiliated to Parti Ayam, therefore it is not apolitical!” I choose to refrain from commenting further on this as repetition is extremely tiring.

Some went on further to say that holding banners on that day was nothing but “full of s***”, “cheap publicity for political mileage within the bar” “cheap publicity to gain clients” and so on and so forth.

For one second, I couldn’t believe that these remarks came from members of the bar. We talk so much about “merakyatkan perlembagaan” but we ourselves do not bother to learn what the right to peaceful assembly is all about.

My parents did not send me to law school just to read law so that I can just go to court to argue cases and tadaa! – Constitutional history is made and the rakyat have learned their rights! Being a lawyer is more than that.

Being a lawyer takes more than that.

Look at history, how activism has changed the course of human civilization. In other parts of the globe, lawyers walk with the people, they hold banners with the people because they want to send a strong and visual message to the world that something terribly wrong is happening. At the same time, they go to court to assert their clients’ rights, to challenge the (unjust or oppressive laws) law and they try their level best to bring positive changes to the law.

They get arrested in court houses, and are charged and then sentenced to death by tribunals set up by their fascist government to dilute the intervention by the court. They are quite lucky that their fascist government tried so hard to keep the court out of the sight as this indicates that their judiciary is reasonably transparent.

Unlike us, at least for me, I have lost my confidence in the judiciary in toto and that trust can only be built up again from scratch once UMNO/BN is completely ousted by the people.

On the day of the march, I overheard a lawyer remarking something to the effect of, “Don’t call me an activist, ok!” I thought that lawyer was joking. I thought it wrong. After hearing all these accusations, yes, that particular lawyer meant it, I do take this personally and will remember this as long as I live. This is not because I “terasa” with such statements as I am nowhere near wearing the “title” activist.

It is because I believe you don’t insult the activists. Don’t make such derogatory statements, since being an activist is not something that all of us can do. It takes courage, commitment, a deep appreciation of humanity and a modicum of selflessness.

Yes, they fight on the streets. Yes, they carry banners. They want the media to capture images of the banners so their cause is publicised! So that their message reaches the masses. They work with everyone regardless of a person’s political affiliations in order to further their cause. They don’t waste their time asking questions of whether they should be political or apolitical. The cause is what matters to them and it is a coming together of like minded advocates.

For a person to be referred to as an activist is, to me, a great honour.

Some of them they may not have read law, they might not wear bespoke jackets and hang out at expensive restaurants like some of us, but please don’t undermine their efforts. Please don’t forget that there are also activist lawyers amongst us that don’t deserve to be belittled by their fellow friends and counterparts.

On the banner issue, trust me, you have no idea what a picture can do to benefit those who are out there. Cliched though it may be, a picture paints a thousand words. It succinctly puts a message across to the masses. I won’t blame you if you choose not to be like them, but don’t you ever belittle them. I think Amer made it clear that the protest was not about him, it’s about the peoples’ right to legal representation and unimpeded access to counsel.

I was there for the people.

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Posted on 6 April 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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