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”

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