Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “You got me wrong”

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

Firstly, it’s indeed amazing how incomplete reading of what I’ve written can really be misunderstood. And how not knowing who I am as a person only adds to further misconstruction.

Secondly, and this worries me, why is it that something that I’ve posted in another State Committee e-group been disseminated to another forum all together. Where is the confidentiality or secrecy? It saddens me that we live in a nation filled with snitches, squealers and rats. And some of them, might even be lawyers.

Now on to my posts. I shall reproduce them here for the sake of clarity.

Regardless of whether there was political influence or not, I wish to say, any attempt by “lawyers” at having a banner, holding it and standing behind it while the press cameras are conveniently clicking away, to me, reeks of being completely full of shit.

It is being completely full of shit because such antics are simply unneeded for lawyers; people who dedicate their lives to reading the law, understanding the Constitution, crafting that priceless argument and changing constitutional history in Court. An honourable lawyer will never need to plant himself in front of a camera, it will be the press who will plant themselves in front of him with a myriad of questions for public digestion. The press will seek him out, never the other way around.

I concede that as Mr Peter wisely said, politicians and the like are bound to attend, nobody can stop them for it is their right to assemble peaceably. I am not against that and have made that very clear in the first line of my post.

Now do note carefully, I have gone to lengths to state that it is the “planting himself in front of a camera” and “press cameras are conveniently clicking away” that I have been concerned about NOT the banner.

How this whole thing became about the banner, I have no clue. I mentioned the banner because that was what I believe was truly “hijacked” by people seeking their few seconds of fame as Mr. Richard Wee himself rightly observed in the posts above. I have no problems with any kind of banner. I don’t even have a problem with public nudity as a sign of expression and in fact vehemently encourage it. I also have no problems with people setting themselves on fire as a sign of defiance as was done by Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in Vietnam is 1963. I also need not a lecture on Article 10, I know what it is and have read it numerous times before.

In response to what I wrote, Syah retorted, most of which he has reproduced here. And he also, I suspect through a cursory reading of the post, had erred in thinking that I was against the banner, to which I further responded:

My point seems to have been misunderstood.

Let me restate: I am not saying that lawyers should not protest. I think when things have reached a critical point where nothing further can be done then there will arise a legitimate need to pursue other alternatives at expressing one’s ideas and opinions.

Nonetheless, that is not what I saw yesterday. What I saw yesterday were professional politicians/lawyers appearing out of nowhere and standing behind the banner just as the cameras started clicking. That to me is a very different matter than marching in the streets of KL for Human Rights Day or marching through Putrajaya for Walk for Justice.

I ended my entire response with a simple conclusion:

My point is: If you want to do something, do it because you believe in it. Do not use the misfortune suffered by an individual as pedestal to catapult yourself. That is just shameful.

Most of my post was a lament on the state of affairs with regards to those whom I found to be conniving and weaselly. What it was not, was an affront to those who are truly passionate about whatever cause they were there for.

It is a call against those with diminished valour and those with an unscrupulous need to want to piggyback on the hard work of a select group of people, in exchange for public affirmation. Who are these conniving people? That I need not mention, they can decide that on their own upon personal reflection.

Over and above that, let me state that I endeavour to steer away from herd mentality; thinking and behaving like the group. I choose to do something because I have evaluated it and believe that it is the right thing to do, not because my peers think it is the right thing to do. I am uninfluenced by them and only act when I have resolved a dilemma on my own. To this, I had written in my posts in that e-group:

I attended the event because a good man and friend like Amer Hamzah, regardless of whether he was a Member of the Bar or a Member of Koperasi Penoreh Getah Kluang, had succumbed to brute, unwarranted and disproportionate police force. There is a need for me, as Aston Paiva,to be present to highlight my disappointment and disapproval. That to me was the crux of the event. What it was not was a press photo opportunity or a pedestal for those intending political leverage within the Bar or worse still a covert attempt at self aggrandizement and advertisement to lure more potential clients.

I had followed it up with:

I once again state, I come not in any kind of official capacity, position or title for I attend because a good man was mistreated. I come as I am.

I understand that some people believe that there is strength in numbers and that they need to have an official “cause”. That I do not agree nor subscribe to. But just because I disagree with such a manner of influencing or campaigning, ought not de-motivate you or render your efforts useless. Your faith in yourself would be weak if that is the effect of hearing a contrary opinion of another. You do what your group thinks is right, I’ll do what I think is right. Freedom of Expression allows me to comment on your opinion and idea just as much as you are able to comment on mine.

I certainly expect that this has made clear, my posts made in another e-group, to those perceived to have been aggrieved by it. If you still feel aggrieved and offended, then that is something you resolve with yourself. Freedom of Expression entails a right for me to offend, shock and disturb you. That is the extent of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there can be no democratic society.

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9 Responses to Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “You got me wrong”

  1. Johnathan

    Eric Paulsen is a coward in using a pseudonym. He intentionally attracted cheap publicity by highlighting and undermining Aston's long call.

    This 'Eric Paulsen' is none other than a cheap and cowardly lawyer. Fellow lawyers should be wary of you for undermining the political independence of the Bar.

    He also hit Aston below the belt by suggesting that Aston was undeserving of what Amer Hamzah had to say for him at his long call.

    He also said that this profession do not need people like Aston.

    Firstly, who is this 'eric paulsen' to decide who deserves to enter or not enter this profession?

    Just because 'Eric' can't handle the views of Aston, in which myself and many others share, he hides behind the skirt of a pseudonym. If you dare to write, you should dare to reveal who you are as well.

    And many people wonder why the BC struggles to get quorom at every EGM. This is exactly because of people like 'Eric'.

  2. Michael

    This is like Law and Order! Drama betul.

    Question is, will these take the attention away from the actual reasons for the protest…..or will it garner more attention?

  3. Pushpa Ratnam

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

    A fellow member of the bar has been manhandled. Bearing in mind this could happen to any one of us, we should all be focused on this one cause ie the cause of being there to support our fellow member, let it be Tan Ah Kaw or some Muthusamy.

    Some of us came there not because it was Amer Hamzah, though no doubt Amer deserves all support as we all know what he stands up for.

    I was very happy to see the down to earth activists like Ambiga, Sivarasa, Dr Jeyakumar, Mano, Dr Nasir…

    I can only say hats off to these people with a heart for human rights. I would have said the same thing had there been Mahathir or Hishamuddin at the gathering lending their support!

    Lets just focus on what Amer has gone through, the famous five from the Legal Aid….

  4. Renuka Balasubramani

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

    In my mind, we can talk about hundreds of inconsequential issues…like Hishamuddin on Norizan’s case (accusing the opposition of sensationalising the issue for its own interests), with a view to deviate from the main issue… but with the little time we have, isn't more prudent to focus on issues of major concern?

    Lets take a look at issues that have come up:
    – The opposition likes to draw publicity to itself
    – Some lawyers like to draw publicity to themselves
    – Some lawyers like to draw publicity to the opposition
    – Some lawyers really care about the rakyat
    – Some lawyers are selective about the issues they champion
    – A man was arrested arbitrarily by police after he was granted bail
    – A lawyer was manhandled and obstructed by the police in the performance of his duties
    – A woman was arbitrarily shot by the police

    One might argue that although the last three items have graver consequences than the first few, the first few are also important. I say, "yeah maybe from your comfort zone".

    I met Norizan in Parliament that day when she went to see Hishamuddin. I met Benjy's sister speaking at the protest. They are women of courage who have had to struggle emotionally within themselves in coming to the decision whether to pursue these initiatives – at great risk to themselves and their reputations. Would you, if you weren't a lawyer and didn't have the Bar or politicians behind you, do it in spite of your fear?

    Do 12,500 members of the Bar trouble themselves to take a member of the rakyat's injustice – usually pro bono – and run with it all the way to the IGP, Putrajaya or Parliament garnering the support of the Bar along the way? ?

    Could we try not to stamp out the altruistic members left in our Bar with the boots of sloth?

  5. K. Shanmuga

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

    Aiyah – Its very simple actually lah.

    Lawyers must protest if a member of the Bar is manhandled by the police.
    Friends of the lawyer will naturally take the lead and initiate action. It so happens, in this case, one of those friends also happens to be a politician.

    Waiting for the Bar Council to act would have taken too long – there are ?only 36 of them, with only about 90 members of staff to assist them, after ?all. And they might need to call a sub committee meeting, a committee ?meeting, an exco meeting, a Council meeting and an EGM before making a ?decision about organising a protest. [sorry – could not resist]

    Now when you have a public protest against a violation of human rights, all concerned citizens are welcome to attend. Including politicians.

    But only opposition parliamentarians and politicians turn up for protests against violations of human rights.
    BN politicians do not come. This is for obvious reasons. They control the government that is accused of the violation of rights. And they are already confused about the distinction between their political party and the government. So, it is unsurprising that they do not come.

    Tough for us. We have to continue protesting and challenging any abuse of governmental authority – its our job as lawyers. Most times we do it in ?Court. Sometimes, we have to do it in other fora.

    When we do it in public, we have to accept that other Malaysians share our outrage.

    Yes, ANY politician who turns up will probably want to speak to the press – that is their job: to politicise and highlight issues, to raise awareness, ?and to get re-elected.
    We cannot begrudge politicians coming for a protest if they believe in thecause (or even if they don't).

    Let's forget about this politicising – it will happen, and we must learn to live with it.

    If you dont agree to holding a banner, don't hold the banner.
    If you think your job is only go to Court, at least volunteer to act for a victim of a human rights violation in Court. But don't complain if your litigant wants to politicise and publicise the issue, because he has seen the Court make someone pay costs of RM50,000 for complaining about being tortured!

    I dont like politicians generally, though I have friends who have become politicians (much to my dismay). But I think we cannot stop politicians of ?any persuasion turning up for our events. Let us embrace them, and cultivate them to ensure they do not forget these principles when they come to power.

    Which brings me to my final point: if Haris' friend was careful to say "opposition" politicians. She no doubt realised that a majority of lawyers have no qualms about associating with politicians so long as they are in power: witness the number of people who went in droves for a free dinner sponsored by Nazri Aziz and Abdullah Badawi.

    Those who attended did not complain about the politicisation of the Bar then. Why should they complain about Sivarasa and Manogar and Dr. Nasir turning up for a protest under the hot sun?

  6. munirah

    Mr. Aston, I just wish to inform you that The Malaysian Insider has published your post here ,and postings from others too – did they ask for your permission?(or loyarburok’s?)

    • Aston Paiva

      Ms Munirah,

      No, my permission was not asked. But, it matters not for everyone in cyberspace is free to read it whether on Loyarburok or Malaysian Insider. It has been put forward by Loyarburok for public consideration.

      In our little scenario, my views and that of Syah were taken from a members only private e-group, namely the KLYLC e-group and were commented on in Rostrum, another e-group all together.

      Seeing our views taken out of context and misconstrued, we felt compelled to clarify our posts and state our position. That, Syah and myself did on Rostrum. Our permission was then sought by the editors of Loyarburok to have it published here and that we agreed to.

      I have, in this post of mine above, said all that I had needed and wanted to say. I don't see myself being able to add any more without being superfluous.

      I shall leave my opinion above to the marketplace and let the readers contemplate it.

    • Dear Munirah

      Thank you for your question.

      LoyarBurok has an understanding with TMI that it may reproduce our posts subject to due acknowledgment that the posts originate from loyarburok.com.

      Trust this clarifies the issue.

  7. Eric Paulsen

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

    For Aston, I am shocked after reading what Fahri had written about you in your long call and how he wished that there were more young lawyers like you. It is clear for me, we precisely do not need more young lawyers like you ie: those who on the outside seemed genuine to be pro-human rights but in reality do not believe in them nor have what it takes to defend and realise them.

    Don’t get me wrong, you will probably do very well and fit in within the Bar circles and in the near future probably chair some human rights related committees. In other words, you are like several other lawyers who have taken up human rights issues thinking that it is probably fun, make a name for yourself, get involve in some charitable activities/ forums, network etc.

    As for your privacy/secrecy argument, I don’t think it holds water as after all you have sent it to an e-group. In any event, why plead privacy/secrecy? Shouldn’t you defend your arguments?

    As for your freedom of speech, I for one am clear that there is a distinction between the freedom of speech to say what you want (ie: a human right) and the quality of the speech. So I will defend your right to state what you have stated and also defend the rights of others to say other puerile things including that the US are promoting democracy or Israel is only defending against “terrorists” when the truth is the opposite. What I find indefensible is the content of what you have said rather than your right to say it. Understand?

    You are simply wrong to think that judicial recourse and other conservative actions will get us anywhere. You just have to survey the movements around the world to see this truism; what more in Malaysia where an UMNO lawyer can be the Chief Justice within a few years of being appointed directly to the Federal Court when he has displayed no quality whatsoever to be even appointed as a Sessions Court judge.

    As for the ridiculous argument of managing public perceptions and fear of “politiking”? Who is playing “politics” here? Are the lawyers running for public office that you should worry about public perception? No. It is the political parties that should be concerned with public perception. So why are you concerned with what the public thinks if what you do is the right thing.

    So to put in perspective that you can understand, the “public perception” is that those who insist on the rights of non-Muslims to use “Allah”, to protest against Syariah offences etc are anti-Islam – why do you persist in doing so and with NGOs that are often called “unIslamic, liberal” etc??? Shouldn’t public perception stop you from defending these issues?? No, you do it because you believe that you are defending the freedom of religion, speech, association etc. So why should this defence on right to counsel and fair trial be any different? Just because political parties are involved? How can you perpetuate this myth that an issue is partisan/tainted just because politicians are involved? Clearly double standards and made worse since I know many will be very pleased if BN officials were to support your case.

    This is the lowest standard I know on how a human right (to association) can be derogated just because of public perception and fear of “politiking”. Not because of war times, public health concerns etc but because of public perception and politics! Amazing because this is argued by lawyers, and all the more amazing lawyers who have portrayed themselves as being involved in human rights issues.

    As for seeking cheap publicity – all I can say is that in one broad brush you have tarnished the entire civil and political movement/activism worldwide including that of lawyers and that the right way to seek redress is only thru the Aston way ie through the courts and nothing else. And the worst thing in this argument is that somehow you think that advocating as lawyers in court is absolutely superior and anything else are beneath lawyers.

    How dare you pass judgments on these politicians/lawyers/activists when clearly you are wet behind your ears and do not know what you are talking about. Unbelievable arrogance.

    On a daily basis, thousands of people are converging and engaging with political parties, hungry for political reform and change and they are certainly not waiting for lawyers to “craft priceless arguments” to challenge the wrongs in this country.