Questioning the inaction by lawyers with regards to the arrest of lawyers and pupils for distributing the Bar Council’s Red Book.Where are the 100 lawyers that are ready to rise up and protect the Bar Council and its affiliates when a police report was lodged against the MyConstitution Campaign? Surely those who “signed up” cannot just mean that they will defend via e-mails, endorsements and sitting at the court gallery? Are you really saying there are no lawyers willing to take up the case – to campaign and challenge the unconstitutional arrest and detention, and defend the Red Book?

Street art by Banksy
Street art by Banksy

I’m just wondering what the hell is going on? On 11 October 2010, four KL Legal Aid lawyers and chambering pupils were arrested during law awareness week for distributing the Bar Council’s Red Book “The Police and Your Basic Rights” and there was hardly any protest. What’s more, it is the same leaflet that was launched by Minister Nazri Aziz. How more “safer” can it get?

All the Bar Council can muster was we are “at a loss to understand the basis for the police’s action.” Where are the 100 lawyers that are ready to rise up and protect the Bar Council and its affiliates? Surely those who “signed up” cannot just mean that they will defend via e-mails, endorsements and sitting at the court gallery? Are you really saying there are no lawyers willing to take up the case – to campaign and challenge the unconstitutional arrest and detention, and defend the Red Book?

This is perhaps far from surprising as the Bar Council has more often than not failed to seize the opportunity to act radically and decisively to really push for genuine Constitutional and Human Rights reform.

Just look at the flip-flopping over the last few years.

In September 2007, the Bar Council acted bravely (and out of character) in organising the historic lawyers “Walk for Justice” in Putrajaya over the VK Lingam scandal and then only to falter some months later when it cancelled the Human Rights Day walk from SOGO to Central Market just because the police wanted a permit; and sought to explain that since a police permit was inconsistent with the Constitution, it would not be applying for the permit and proceeded to cancel the walk!

Then came the high profile arrest of the five KL Legal Aid lawyers at the Brickfields Police Station when they went to act for their clients in May 2009. The Bar was understandably outraged and an EGM was called. The atmosphere was electrifying and the lawyers present were angry and ready to walk again. However, the Bar Council failed to seize the momentum and only came out with some resolutions (that admittedly were quite strong).

So, are we really surprised that Legal Aid lawyers and pupils were arrested and detained again? Or are we surprised to hear that dock brief pupils from time to time have been prevented from seeing their clients or that remand proceedings are now being held at the Bukit Jalil Remand Centre instead of the courts?

Surely the issue cannot be that the lawyers and pupils were “only detained for a few hours” as I was made to understand. The real issue is that constitutional and human rights have been violated and that this incident is not the case of a few bad apples but rather a wider and serious problem of the PDRM’s contempt for the Constitution and human rights and the role played by lawyers.

How does that reflect on the Bar Council and its various committees when nothing is offered to these lawyers and pupils other than a press statement? What message is being sent to them and other volunteers?

Surely you don’t expect the new IGP and the Home Minister to suddenly respect and protect our constitutional and human rights without any real protest and struggle? If you do not know by now, the struggle for human rights is not fun and games – it isn’t just fiddling with your Facebook or tweets, and certainly far from raising funds for charitable homes or producing cute items. Rosmah or any UMNO leaders’ wives can certainly do a better job.

Is that what human rights work in the Bar has been reduced to (not all of course)?

LB: Eric Paulsen is a member of Lawyers for Liberty, a human rights lawyers organisation. LFL will be officially launched early next year, so watch this space! Woohoo!

13 replies on “Are there really no lawyers willing to defend the Bar Council’s Red Book?”

  1. Educating the public on their constitutional rights, especially during law awareness week, can never by any stretch of the imagination constitute an offence in law. Therefore, the arrests of NORASHIKIN AMIRRUDDIN, MOHD AZWAN, CHAN KOON MOH and JASON KONG are clearly another case of blatant harassment of members of the Bar.

    There seems to be no end to this kind of harassment of members of the Bar by the those who weild power and authority. If the members of the Bar and the public do not put a stop to this form of arbitrary abuse of power, then who will? We have to stand united and fend ourselves for the sake of the public.

    To these 4 brave individuals, let it be known that I am with you.

  2. (from malaysia today)


    Back in 2004, I attended the inaugural meeting of the Malaysian Civil Liberties Society (MCLS) at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel. Some even paid RM250 to sign up as a member of this new society that promised exciting days ahead of us. And it would have been exciting because the people involved were those from the legal fraternity, professionals, activists from the civil society movements, and new Bloggers like me (Malaysia Today had just been born then).

    That was six years ago and after six years nothing further has happened. This is because the MCLS is still awaiting the approval of its registration. Considering that some have been waiting ten years or more for the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to approve the registration of their political party or society/association I suppose this six-year wait is not surprising at all.

    Since then much has happened in the Malaysian political scene. The opposition has formed a new coalition called Pakatan Rakyat after the breakup of the first coalition, Barisan Alternatif, that was launched in 1999. The opposition made a remarkable recovery in the 2008 general election after the disaster of 2004. Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has bailed out and has handed the reins of power to his successor, Najib Tun Razak. And so on and so forth.

    The MCLS, however, is still waiting to be born while the world around it has moved on. And it appears like the MCLS will never see the light of day unless I take matters into my own hands. And take matters into my own hands I must.

    This Saturday, 30th October 2010, I am going to legalise the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM). And so that I do not create any confusion or be accused of ‘hijacking’ the MCLS, I am going to call it ‘Movement’ instead of ‘Society’.

    Thus the launching of the MCLM this Saturday to take over from the MCLS that was shot down even as it was still taxiing on the runaway and before it could take off.

    Earlier this month, Tan Sri Sanusi Junid came to my house for dinner and we talked about the MCLM that is going to be legalised at the end of this month. Sanusi said that Tun Dr Mahathir actually has the same idea and that the latter did speak to the former about it.

    This is purely coincidental, of course, and we are not taking this initiative to beat Dr Mahathir to the starting line (I told Sanusi first about the MCLM before he mentioned the part about Dr Mahathir’s idea). However, if Dr Mahathir does have the same idea then he should not raise any objections to our initiative to launch the MCLM.

    The objective of the MCLM, amongst others, is to promote and propagate The People’s Voice and The People’s Declaration ( to all political parties contesting the coming general election.

    Another objective of the MCLM is to ‘offer’ non-political party candidates from the amongst the Malaysian professionals/lawyers and the civil society movements to ALL the political parties contesting the general election that may either be short of candidates or are not able to find ‘quality’ candidates to field in the elections.

    This, incidentally, is also Dr Mahathir’s objective, said Sanusi. So this is even more reason why Dr Mahathir should not block our effort since what we are attempting is something he too is talking about.

    One thing these political parties must understand is that the MCLM candidates are not going to be ‘party stooges’ and neither will they seek positions in any political party. Their loyalty will be to the voters, the rakyat, and not to the political party that they represented in the elections. This will be our term and condition and if this is not acceptable to these political parties then they are free to reject our offer of candidates.

    It is not the intention of the MCLM to become another political party or to participate in three-corner fights with Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat. It is to complement both coalitions in addressing a most important issue concerning Malaysian politics — and that is to see the emergence of ‘politik baru’ or ‘new politics’. It is also to see the realisation of a two-party system — which means we have to ensure that both coalitions are equally strong (or equally weak, as the case may be) and ‘better-balanced’ than they are now.

    I have also spoken to various leaders from Gerakan, PKR, PAS and DAP about this and the first impression appears to be that the idea is being well-received — of course as long as these politicians do not see the MCLM as a competitor because politicians are suspicious of competition.

    It is actually too premature for me to tell you more because we shall only be legalised by this weekend. However, since Kayveas has somehow already got wind of it (because Sanusi may have informed Dr Mahathir about our discussion this month who in turn informed Kayveas), and since Kayveas has pre-empted my move with his statement about the matter, I thought I would give Malaysia Today’s readers a heads up or early warning of what’s to come.

    Anyway, don’t react just yet until all the details about the MCLM are revealed. We hope the MCLM will become a new and exciting milestone in Malaysian politics and that it would be able to satisfy what many are lamenting about and what appears to be lacking in Malaysian politics.

    That’s all for now but stay tuned and I shall tell you more as we go along. I hope that many of you who talk about doing something but do not know what you can do will participate in the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement and help push Malaysia towards seeing that change that we clamour for.

  3. is it the END of human rights or what is its END? those who are at different levels of HR education, activism and stages of growth – but everyone is needed to further the cause. HR work will never end; its only where when and how you are taking it on.

    this type of banter and discussion is good – to have the philosophocal arguments be contemplated by those who work in the field; importatnyl all of us need to work together. and sometimes people should whine and name and shame and leave it as that= others maybe want to solve problems, so we leave is as that as well.

    no harm fighting about the solutions which are not seen in this discussion. question is what is the END of any HR ACTIVITY, AND what is the means to do it

    you all go fight the police ya' – file case for wrongful detention, hantar memorandum to GP, keep stepping pressure up

    go go g o

  4. Dear Eric,

    Thank you for your response and I honoured that you would actually reply to my queries, being a busy and seasoned Human Rights activist that you are.


    Make no mistake, when I ask you what the Bar Council should do, I'm not saying that I don't think the Bar Council can do anything else. I just wanted to know your views on what the BC should do, since you have omitted to offer it in your article. Maybe next time, when you pen an article lambasting and criticizing the Bar Council or anyone for that matter, you'll be minded to offer solutions as well. Or else you'll just look like a mindless whiner. Not that I’m saying you are one, mind you.


    You asked 'where are the 100 lawyers?', in reference to the 100 lawyers team by Loyarburok to defend the MyConstitution campaign. So I told you, I'm sure they'll be more than 100 lawyers if the Legal Aid volunteers are charged. How you spun it to say that I'm saying that people will be sufficiently outraged only if they were charged in court, or if people like Edmund or Amer are charged, is beyond me. The 100 lawyers team for MyConsti, if you want to compare, is set up for any possible Court action. If your solution is bring the fight outside of the Courts, then why do you need a team of lawyers to defend them? The fight outside the Courts would involve civil society and not limited to lawyers.


    I have no 'goat' with holding banners or going to the streets. If you read my response carefully, I said Human Rights work is more than just going to the streets and holding banners. Facebook and Tweets can be a tool for Human Rights work. Going and talking to people, holding workshops and forums can also be a means of furthering Human Rights work. What I have 'goat' with is how you dismiss, in your article, every other forms of Human Rights work. And you can't expect everyone to be able to go out there on the ground and do Human Rights work. You cannot blame people if all they can invest to the cause is through Twitter, Facebook or articles. Activism cannot be exclusive to only those at the forefront or those willing to get arrested. There isn't only one Human Rights activism way. Expand your mindset, expand your methods, and use the tools that you have! If you really want to further the Human Rights cause then you must be inclusive and not think that there is only one way to Human Rights.


    It may be silly of me to interpret that what you’re saying is that helping the needy is not Human Rights, but you cannot blame me when you said it as such in your article. You say that everyone can raise funds for a good cause, so Bar Council should be involved in other causes. But even with everyone getting in on the act, there is still not enough that can be done for the needy. If some lawyers want to be involved in raising funds for the needy, why should we stop them from doing so? Why deny them a chance to do good if that is all they are willing and able to do? Isn’t what they are doing Human Rights work as well?

    Thank you.

  5. Dear Syahredzan,

    Thank you for your comments as I am sure you are very busy with the MyConstitution campaign. Here are my responses:

    I am extremely surprised that you have asked what else can the Bar Council do other than issue a press statement concerning the Red Book arrest. I sincerely hope this is not your reflection of the Bar Council’s standing and authority as that would be a sad indictment.

    There are several possible courses of action for the Bar Council; the best would probably be to contact Minister Nazri Aziz (as he seemed more upset than the Bar Council) and hold a joint press conference with him in Parliament and express their collective outrage over the incident. Or seek a high level meeting with the Home Minister or the new IGP; or get Lim Kit Siang or R.Sivarasa to seek a parliamentary discussion. Of course, this Red Book arrest should not be presented as an isolated incident but a deep rot within the PDRM manifested by its continuous and widespread disregard and contempt for human rights and the work of lawyers.

    I think it bears repeating that the Bar Council and the Bar have a rich history and tradition of being at the forefront of human rights activism and protest: opposing and boycotting the ESCAR regulations which resulted in severe amendments to the LPA; the march to Parliament to protest amendments to the Societies Act which resulted in criminal convictions for dozens of lawyers; opposing the sacking of Lord President Salleh Abas and boycotting his replacement Hamid Omar, opposing Operasi Lallang and numerous political cases during this tumultuous period; opposing the Anwar trials/ contempt cases; the subsequent protest walk to the Federal Court building; providing legal aid to the Reformasi movement; the Walk for Justice leading to the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the VK Lingam scandal, and legal aid to the Hindraf and Bersih movements. Isn’t that what the Bar Council likes to portray to its pupils when they do their training or when trying to attract volunteers?

    C’mon Syahredzan, surely you are not saying that the 100 lawyers (and now maybe 200!) will only be sufficiently outraged and do something when the lawyers and pupils are charged in court? You don’t think it was a serious problem that they were detained for several hours over the Red Book? Have you seen the content of the Red Book? It’s “The Police and Your Basic Rights”! Oh, the bitter irony! I wonder what the MyConstitution campaign says about abuse of police power, arbitrary arrest, freedom of speech and information, legal representation and the work of lawyers.

    Or was it a case that those arrested were not high profile lawyers as I am sure many of you would be very upset if Edmund Bon or Amer Hamzah were arrested. I certainly hope not, as it goes without saying that human rights violations should not be based on who is the victim although it doesn’t hurt to have a high profile victim.

    The gravest mistake I think any lawyer involved in human rights work can do is to think that they can solve all or most problems through the courts. This is exactly what the authorities want us to do – to believe (or pretend) that there is rule of law, to respect all laws regardless of content, and that you can get justice and fairness through the courts.

    Yes, it’s important to pose a challenge through the courts, but by no means should any campaign for change and reform be limited to only court cases as you will more often than not lose. That’s a fact. Go and do a survey on how the conservative (nice way of saying rubbish) judiciary has interpreted the illiberal laws.

    As for “going to the streets and holding banners” as you have so eloquently put it, seriously Syahredzan, no human rights activist I know much less “seasoned activist” would even think for a moment that the struggle for human rights only involves “going to the streets and holding banners” which you and your friends disapprove of or find so unbecoming of lawyers.

    In any event, I don’t understand your goat with “going to the streets and holding banners” and other forms of civil actions (marches, strikes, hunger strikes, sit-ins, candlelight vigils etc) as they are legitimate and essential part of human rights activism all over the world including first world states – what more in repressive and authoritarian Malaysia.

    I certainly don’t expect everyone involved in human rights work to take the risk of arrest – certainly not from your group. Far from dismissing the social media, what I was trying to say is that Facebook and tweets are easy way out from the real hard work involved in human rights activism. By all means do Facebook and tweet and of course write – but please get out from cyberspace and the social media scene once in a while and really get involved.

    Lastly, it’s very silly of you to interpret what I have written as saying that needy children have no human rights. What I was trying to say is that raising funds for such benign causes can be done by anyone including Rosmah, corporate figures, charitable clubs, Sai Baba or other religious organisations, UMNO-BN leaders etc (e.g. Chua Soi Lek recently tweeted that he received RM1 million from a businessman when he proposed setting up a medical fund or something like that).

    So shouldn’t the Bar Council and lawyers get involved in something a little bit more challenging like say, the Red Book arrest and reform of the PDRM – that befit the profession, its history and no fear or favour motto?

    Or try raising funds for detention without trial cases and the detainees’ families and see what happens.



  6. nope.

    fadiah… i'm not worried abt the scrutiny or criticism of the BC.if they deserve it then all the more reason. i just think sometimes we run to them far too easily.

    same here, i'm too old… but i'll move my bones if i have to, even if it means the prospect of a sprained ankle.

    in essence, i'm only worried that people don't take responsibility and simply adopt a victim mentality. we just gotta deal with it.

    by "attack" (as a figure of speech), i mean why are your posts pointed at me when syah has raised similar points. i know i'm quite the fatty these days, but don't mean i should be a punching bag. i'm trying to lose the weight, ya…

    have a great weekend.

    hidup, "radio demokratika"….

  7. Dear Farez,

    Lawyers should be the last persons to use the word "attack" in a public discourse in the course of promoting the beauty of freedom of speech and expression.Pick a fight?please Farez, don't be childish, my opinion here is just a response to the topic at hand. To pick a fight, I'm too old for that and I don't want to be accused of being a whiner every time i get an unfavorable response from someone and tell the whole wide world that I'm under attack, in the course of a discussion of course.

    It seems to me that your only concern is, in essence, criticizing the leadership of bc for their purported inaction. I believe the author has more to say on the solution part, but I'm just utterly surprised that people are jumping on the fact that bc is being scrtinuized and criticized.

    Btw, have a great Friday evening Farez.

  8. dear fadiah,

    seriously, fadiah… on a friday evening?

    i'm not going to bother addressing all the issues, just the ones that pique my interest, fadiah.

    actually, i have to apologise. there was a typo on my part at the end of the 1st pargraph.

    "…for them to know they were wrong?" should have read "…for them to know they were wronged?"

    i did not intend to imply they were in the wrong, but that they were wronged. i do apologise.

    i subscribe to just knuckling down and just getting it done. you want to kick up a hue and cry, by all means do it. it's apparently a free country.

    me sounding like the government? you are so far from the truth fadiah, you should know better than to pick a fight with me on that. just because we do things differently does not mean that we have opposing views on what justice is what is right and wrong.

    "no formal complain, next?". personally, if you want to do something about it then go to court with this. why bother with just a statement. do the aggrieved need to validate their sense of right and wrong, with a statement from the BC?

    in any event, i sense me pricking some bits of chili here. yes, lawyers are social engineers. i can agree with that to a degree. a lot of what they do have an impact on society whether socially or commercially.

    but i think our impact is best felt where it matters – in court and not on the streets. anything else we become active participants and we will not be doing our best work in court. this means they have to stay above the fray.

    so, while we are on the streets, getting picked up or being wronged; yes, it may be grounds for a claim or suit. but in that capacity we are not agents of change or social engineers, we are simply litigants.

    and why attack me, when syah also said the author should offer solutions? when you are hurt, take some responsibility and deal with it by yourself. yes you can seek help, no one is denying that. we all need help. but to expect and demand help, that's another thing altogether.

    if the BC is wrong on this, history will point to it. it is simply better for the aggrieved to empower themselves and do something about it. i do think that the BC doesn't always get it right, but to attack, the BC, it is simply an attack on your own self as a practicing lawyer and on every lawyer. as much as you want the office bearers to do something about it, i think they are human and can deal with what they can at a given moment. if you feel strongly about it. lobby for an office bearer to do something about it.

    nobody likes a whiner, fadiah. i'm not being protective of the BC. i just think we have to own up some responsibility here, whether it is on a micro or macro scale. we are all standard bearers for our profession. waiting on them to say something, is simply passing the buck. WE are the once to serve without fear or favour, not just the office bearers.

    i bear no ill will to the aggrieved. i don't even know them. but i do disagree with the author on his points. and yes, it is important that human rights breaches are checked vigilantly and arrested, but to hound the BC for an alleged non-action without offering solutions, sorry. that's not my cuppa. gosh, it's no longer about the breach to the aggrieved caused by the police, but the BC's purported inaction. can we stick to the issue at hand, i.e. the breach?

    plus, since the author holds himself to be a member of a lawyers' organisation, he should be in a position to offer solutions for the aggrieved. me and syah, we're still waiting with bated breath here.

    thank you.

    yours faithfully,


  9. Dear Farez, I leave the first part of your question to those whose rights have been gravely infringed in this case.

    But to accuse them of beholding to the sympathy of others and "do they really have to wait for the bar council to say something for them to know they were wrong" are grossly offensive.

    Just because we are skeptical about our leaders does not mean that we are barred from pointing this matter out.Afterall, aren't they supposed to lead by example?Aren't they supposed to resort to all possible means to push for constitutional reform? They are entrusted to uphold justice without fear or favour aren't they?or is it just a fancy motto to brag on and on?

    Aren't they supposed to assure us that they can be criticized over and over again since the fight for human rights, justice and freedom is of utmost importance?

    I'm afraid that you are sounding more like the government of the day. The common reaction of "no formal report, don't complaint, next!" attitude when confronted on certain issues.we are talking about human rights breach over here, not some people who are not happy that lawyers can be super noisy at court cafe.

    do u think people in the US who fight for the Palestinian rights know each other?when it comes to human rights breach, the only thing that authorizes human beings to step forward and defend their fellow human beings is conscience.

    "Instigating discussion or stirring up strife or litigation on the part of the lawyers"-this sounds more like PERKASA's reaction upon being confronted by certain people who don't subscribe to the same views.So freedom of speech and expression has been reduced to "things can only be said if they don't attract opposite arguments?".

    For heaven's sake, lawyers are deemed as social engineers, unless one chooses to disassociate himself/herself with this unwritten obligation. Lawyers take up matters which are of significant public interests even though they don't personally know the people they are representing.

    I believe none of us (including the bar council leadership) have any interests in any way except in the interest of why are we being so defensive?

  10. and why are these red book legal aid fellers, so quiet about it. have they no legal re-dress of their own? are they merely beholden to the sympathy of others? do they really have to wait for the bar council to say something for them to know they were wrong?

    taking pot shots at the bar council is not going to solve any problem. seems that people want so much of other but don't want to step up to offer solutions. i agree with syah on this. at the expense of sounding like a bar council sympathizer, i have no interest either way. until today, i still haven't come across any new report as to who these aggrieved persons are and why they have chosen to remain silent.

    yes it takes time and effort to raise awareness, but it cannot be at the expense of instigating discussion or stirring up strife or litigation on the part of the lawyers, just for the sake of raising awareness and bringing to attention to people human rights abuses.

  11. Dear Eric,

    Just a few points that I seek your response on, and I do apologize as I'm sure you're very busy since you're a seasoned Human Rights activist.


    You have criticized the Bar Council, which you have every right to do and your criticisms have merits. However, I would like to know in your opinion apart from issuing the press statement, what else should the Bar Council do? You have omitted this rather crucial part in your article – the solution.


    Well, in case you didn't know, the 100 lawyers team to defend the MyConstitution campaign is set up by Loyarburok and not the Bar Council, to defend it if any court action was taken by the AG. Similarly, I'm quite sure that if the young Legal Aid members were charged, they can count on not just 100 lawyers, but 200 lawyers or more to defend them if need be. It's just that well, at this point in time, they are not charged and doesn't seem that they will be.


    Well, we all know the struggle for Human Rights is serious, but if you think that Human Rights is just going to the streets and holding banners, you as a seasoned Human Rights activist should really expand your methods. A person might not be willing to get arrested in the name of Human Rights but if he can expose even one person to Human Rights through his "Facebook or Tweets", or writing articles like yours, does that not further the Human Rights cause as much as one arrest may? So if I was a seasoned Human Rights activist such as you, I would not so easily dismiss these forms of communication.

    And are saying that raising funds for charitable homes is not a worthy cause? That the needy children in these homes do not have a Human Right to have a meaningful, human existence, simply because fate treated them such?

    I look forward to your answers. Thank you!

  12. "If you do not know by now, the struggle for human rights is not fun and games – it isn’t just fiddling with your Facebook or tweets, and certainly far from raising funds for charitable homes or producing cute items. Rosmah or any UMNO leaders’ wives can certainly do a better job. Is that what human rights work in the Bar has been reduced to (not all of course)?"

    Koff koff . . .

    *certainly far from raising funds for charitable homes*

    But thats as far as I allude as I value my friendships.

    Run for election as candidates on third force principles why don't you? Have the cash, network or time, or even the muscle?

    Then do it already! Don't let what ccdev says be true. I seriously wonder along those lines myself at times . . .

  13. So, you finally aware to the fact that the Bar Council is a 'feel good' organization. yeah, yeah, they will talk a lot, advice people on what they should do, print some phamplets, make some comments in the paper and all that shit just so they can get together and clap each other on the back for doing a 'good deed' for the community. But ask them to put some real work n sweat, to make a real difference to reforms and you will see some lawyers making a token 'defence' with email, facebook or twitter. then it's back to the good ol' corporate 'gravy train' work so they can buy their luxury bungalow and retirement lifestyle. You think they gonna rock the boat? You gotta look after No 1, cause the gomen sure as hell ain't going to.

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