Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “But it is a question of perception too”

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

But it is a question of perception too

On another e-group (i.e. the KL Bar YLC’:s) when someone posted the article from Haris Ibrahim’s blog, I said that it seemed to me that the protest/march was “hijacked” by political parties. Because of that, I feel that I have to give my two cents worth on this whole issue here. Perhaps to even clarify what I meant.

Now let me clearly state that I have absolutely no problem with the presence of politicians or people with political aspirations at the protest, especially if they are members of the Bar. Everyone felt strongly about the issue and the presence of people with political affiliations will only strengthen us. I would be happy if the whole of Parliament descended upon us and joined in the protest, as it will show that the issue is one of national importance.

In saying that however, I do believe that we must be careful and ensure that the cause remains a non-partisan one. I personally have no problems with joining a rally or protest organised by political parties, but I don’t think it is fair for people to go to the protest thinking that it is a cause for members of the Bar and concerned citizens but leaving the protest feeling that it became a partisan one.

More importantly, I sincerely believe that for the Bar to become an effective vehicle for positive change in the country, we must ensure that we reach as many people as possible. Unfortunately, we live in a society that loves to label and to view things in a “zero-sum” game kind of way. If you’re not with them, means you’re with “the others.” If you are with “the others”, means that you are against them. You talk about certain things and they label you as “pengkhianat”, “liberal”, “opposition sympathiser” and so many other labels that you can think of.

It’’ a sad state of affairs, really. But it is the state of affairs. If people flip open the newspapers and read that the protest was spearheaded by politicians or was affiliated with certain political parties, some will immediately cast it as a partisan protest. It matters not whether it is true or not. They will not even bother to understand the issue at hand, simply because they perceive it to be “opposition politics.”

I feel that we should not protest or march just for the sake of it. We must do so with the aim of sending a message – to those in power as well as to the people out there who are not aware. However, we’re up against the might of the government machinery, with the police and media and whatever else they have at their disposal. We can come up with hundreds of press statements, write numerous LoyarBurok blawg postings and protest every week, but if we do not strategise properly we will only be preaching to the converted. That strategy includes managing the perceptions of the people out there, to ensure that our message gets through to them effectively.

Why the need for the message to go through, you may ask. Because I firmly believe that change can only come through political will and political will is shaped by the people. The reason why the government is even willing to review the ISA is because there is increasing pressure from the rakyat to look into the Act. Yes, it is not enough to simply review it but the government would not even bother if not for the efforts of civil society, NGOs and of course, the Bar, in campaigning against the draconian legislation.

Would I still go if I thought it was a partisan political protest? Of course I would. I have no problems associating myself with a cause I believe in.

But we must understand that there are people out there who will shy away or dismiss it if they think it is a partisan protest. Similarly, there will be people out there who will not even bother with the cause if they think it is organised by political parties. This is what I believe we have to manage.

That is why to me, the banner is important. It states clearly and unequivocally the reason why we were there – to lend support to a fellow lawyer and to say that enough is enough. To say that yes, we have politicians amongst us, yes, this is a “political” issue, but this is not about partisan politics. It is about us wanting to put a stop to further violations of the rakyat’s Constitutional rights.

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Syahredzan Johan adalah seorang peguam muda dan seorang rakan kongsi di sebuah firma guaman di Kuala Lumpur. Dia melihat dirinya sebagai seorang pengkritik politik dan pengulas sosial. Tetapi dia sebenarnya hanyalah seorang warga Malaysia yang mempunyai terlalu banyak pendapat. Dia adalah seorang yang patriotik, walaupun bukan dengan cara biasa seperti mengibar bendera. Dia percaya Malaysia mempunyai potensi yang hanya dapat direalisasi sekiranya rakyatnya belajar bersatu-padu dan bukannya berpecah-belah. Ikutilah Syah di Refleksi Minda.

Posted on 8 April 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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16 Responses to Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “But it is a question of perception too”

  1. art harun

    No need to say sorry Cik Munirah. No offence taken and no anger involved.

    I am at that age where I cannot get angry ever so often lest I risk a cardiac arrest. :)

  2. munirah

    sorry Mr. Art! I did not intend my remarks to be unkind – i was just looking for answers & if you ask people to stop arguing – close the subject without further explanations – it will just give room for people to speculate the answers…especially outsiders like me ^_^ jgn marah ya!

    Cheers!

  3. Mr. Art,

    There's nothing to be ashamed of in discussing this matter. unproductive you might think…but i beg to differ.this overwhelming reaction is caused by none other than the pettiness of some lawyers' thinking of how the whole event was "politicized/hijacked" pursuant to a contemptuous statement of "seeking cheap publicity".

    it's important to discuss this matter as this petty statement has done nothing but damaging the morale of people who are sincere to commit themselves to the cause. afterall, we are all human. if we consider ourselves to be brothers and sisters in the fraternity, those statements should have not surfaced in the first place.

    Nobody is fighting here, they just want their voices to be heard.it's bad enough that we only have a few people, our brothers and sisters who would have taken the extra mile to further the cause and to prove that what they say is not mere lip service, acts that would damage and hurt their morale should be the last thing a brother/sister should do.

    and discussing the issue of taking principle stand is not unproductive. this discussion have taken activism where it is now. there's nothing petty about that.

    without this kind of discussion, the cause can never find its way.

  4. mei1

    I'm going to repeat some points that I've written on my twitter:

    – we can't control how others think but what matters is clear conscience & focus on the objective of the cause

    – just a protest but ended up so many arguments, what fame, 'hijacking', politicise.. Is this the typical mentality of anak bangsa Bolehland?

    – 'Politicise'? Can we totally stay away from politics? It's part of our lives. You can choose to concern or ignore it but the latter is the main cause of takBolehland

    – Why are we complicated a particular issue when the fact is it can be solved / viewed in a simple way? Is this part of a nature of a loyar or human being itself is a complicated creation? instead of simplifying thing but inclined to get into a blind alley?

  5. I agree with Art on this. I have no intention of prolonging this so-called fight. I didn't even want to 'fight' in the first place.

    But just on the point of the MyConstitution campaign, since for some reason it's been dragged into this – the campaign's premise is again non-partisan. We work with anyone and everyone who is willing to work with us to bring the Constitution to the people.

    That is why the Sarawak CM is launching the state-wide campaign on Saturday. And that is also why Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and the Selangor government launched the third phase of the campaign and sponsered 100,000 booklets for distribution.

    http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/baha

  6. Abdul Haleem

    Where are we heading with all this? I have upmost respect for members of the BAR. Mainly because I hate the side of AG Chambers and AG himself. I wish the BAR will be non partisan. I dont care if the members of the BAR is aligned. Its their right. As a non-lawyer and a civil society member, I would hope to see BAR educate the mass public (you guys doing it very well already) and keep non substantial issues within four walls. Its really cheap to pick on each other. Please, put a stop.

  7. art harun

    Cik Munirah,

    Did I sound patronising? I wasn't trying to be so.

    I pleaded that these arguments be stopped because I feel the are unproductive. They also detract from the importance of the event in question.

    That is my personal opinion and that was my personal plea. It is expressed in a very polite way.

    Please do not equate my plea with what you label as the "patronizing govt telling us via Printing presses publications act etc what we can,should or must discuss/think about."

    You are being unkind to me.

  8. munirah

    1. why did mr. Art ask you lawyers at the Bar to stop the argument? differences of opinion is not dangerous – please we have had enough of patronizing govt telling us via Printing presses publications act etc what we can,should or must discuss/think about . apa yg perlu malu?

    2. although i am not against working with BN govt, but someone should answer Lat's question on why perception issues must only be a matter of concern when it involves Pakatan politicians. Really i would love to know what is the answer to her question

    thank you

    non-lawyer citizen Munirah

  9. art harun

    Please lah guys (and gals too). My God!

    Stop this arguments lah for God's sake! Malu la.

    It was a good thing. A good protest. Championing a good cause.

    Kudos to everyone who organised it and those who attended.

    Sudah lah. I beg you all to stop this arguments.

    We are all brothers and sisters at the Bar. Your cause is my cause and I am sure vice versa too.

    Let's work together for the betterment of Malaysia.

    Chill out everyone.

    Cheers.

  10. Pingback: But it is a question of perception too « Refleksi Minda

  11. Latheefa

    Speaking of managing perception – I wonder how one would perceive the Bar Council's My Consti campaign being launched by one of the most corrupt Chief Minister in Malaysian history!!! Also are we saying its ok to work with politicians (and they are not going to "hijack" and turn it into a "partisan issue") as long as they are the goverment? its that the limit of your principled stand? All your consideration in favour to work with politicians in power no longer apply the moment they are in opposition?

  12. Lo Hai Hiung

    This is my perspective as a non-lawyer. It sadden me that there are lawyers who are so petty and so deeply entrenched in partisan politics that they raises such a petty concern.

    Why does it matter that the opposition politicians was present there to land support? On what basis is that the support of opposition politicians to an event is equivalent to the hijacking of the event?

    I think the lawyers who raised this "hijack" concern have soul searching to do. Their acts of raising such a concern have, in my opinion, diverted the good intention of the organizer in raising a serious and noble public issue.

    By harping on why certain people should not attend the event have in effect letting such petty thing to overshadow the big picture of the effort to protect the constitutional rights of the people.

    The event is supposed to make the public to talk about our right to be represented by a lawyer and now, it has sadly be converted into a debate why opposition politicians should not attend an event organized by the BAR. How sad…

  13. Syahredzan Johan

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

    Please don't take this personally. Maybe what I should have phrased it better in the e-group, in hindsight maybe I should not have said the word 'hijack'. But I said that in the e-group, quickly and in response to an e-mail thread. When I said it, what I meant was what I elaborated in my posting earlier – that we should manage the perception which we put forth if we want to be effective.

    Little did I know that my hasty response would offend you and others. It was never in my mind to say you hijacked or anyone anything. If that was what came across from my e-mail in that e-group then I truly apologise.

    The reason why I repeated the word “hijack” was because I had a feeling that it was in reference to my e-mail yesterday in the other e-group. That's why I felt that I had to clarify what I meant when I said the word.

    But I still stand by what I feel – that we should manage the perception if we were to be effective.

    As for the banner, it was not me who said it and I disagree with the view that we shouldn't be holding the banner.

    For me personally, all this is a learning process – to not be hasty in my comments lest it offend or lead to misunderstanding such as this

  14. Richard Wee

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

    Personally, I did not have the perception that the matter was hijacked by politicians. And I agree with Latheefa's account, as I was following the development of this matter since the last week.

    Perhaps, if I may gently suggest; may we close this matter, and just remember the positive things; i.e.: that we handed the memorandum; that when it matters, there are lawyers (& non-lawyers) who will support the issue; and that this issue got due attention from the media.

    Allow me to repeat my earlier posting – the event was about lawyers supporting another lawyer.

  15. Latheefa Koya

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

    Let me get this straight.

    1. Suren and I organised the event sent out the invitation.

    2. Called the press.

    3. Mobilised our friends including activists, lawyers and MPs.

    4. Made the banner.

    5. Drafted the memo.

    6. Mobilised through Edmund and Amer for more lawyers to come including Bar Council members.

    7. When meeting the police we called upon Bar Council leaders to be part of the delegation and to speak to the press together with the others.

    8. We requested Ragu to handover the memo which he did.

    Now we are being accused of hijacking "the Bar's event." Amazing!! You couldn't make this up.

    P/S: If one were to read the LoyarBurok account of the event we and the non-lawyers and opposition MPs did not even exist and it’s all the Bar's effort especially the MyConsti group. We would not have raised this up and had no problem with the account until the issue of hijacking was raised.

  16. Richard Wee

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

    Paramount to this issue, is that we got the memorandum handed over. What happened to Amer, should not happen to any lawyer.

    As for Politicians, they were there to support the event. Though (if I may be so blunt to say) there were some individuals I saw there, were clearly for political reasons, but people like Sivarasa & Lat, have been championing these kind of causes all these years. In fact I think it’s the other way round; if they were not there, it would be odd.

    But Syah's point is about perception, wanting to ensure maximum people support and appreciation for the cause. I see his point, and to a large extent, would agree with his point.

    However, the said mass protest was different, it was about lawyers supporting another lawyer. It did not matter if the lawyer was from UMNO or PR, so long as the primary purpose for being at Bukit Aman was to show solidarity and support.