Stop! In the name of fashion!
Stop! In the name of fashion!

It must be difficult to be a policeman in Malaysia. Between finding the time to not take down the truth on victim statements and figuring out the best time and place to position themselves for tea money (sorry, road blocks), one would assume they had more than enough on their plates. The latest onerous duty that
has been added to their workload is requesting that they monitor the latest street trends, duly arresting those who commit a fashion faux-pás.


The heinous fashion crime referred to here is the wearing of yellow shirts, buttons, (perhaps even skanky underwear) bearing the Bersih logo. Although, rest assured, the colour yellow has still been deemed fashion-worthy this season. A relief, I’m sure, for royalty in and around Malaysia who may wish to emulate the fashion-savvy of Queen Elizabeth.

The arrest of Emeric Teo is the second since the Bersih rallies. In case there are any doubts as to the lawfulness of the police arrests, rest assured that the legal argument for fashion-policing is watertight. Section 47 of the Societies Act 1966 renders unlawful the printing, displaying, publishing etc. of anything which represents the interests of an unlawful society (in this case, Bersih 2.0).

But wait. Wasn’t Bersih just a peaceful mass gathering of people for the common goal of a legitimate purpose? What about the impassioned speeches about a supposed Article 10 Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Asssociation? Obviously, there has been a case of mass amnesia, when has any constitutional right not been subject to some built-in disclaimers? The last time this came up was when Hindraf was crucified in the media. Article 10(2)[just scroll down if you are reading the Constitution in pdf format] grants Parliament some pretty extensive powers to make laws to impede this freedom for the interests of security, public order or morality.

Parliament has utilised this clause by off-loading the work onto a Minister who has the absolute (read: not reviewable by the courts) discretion to
declare a society unlawful under Section 5 of the 1966 Act. Whether or not the Minister exercised his discretionary power justly in deeming Bersih unlawful, don’t hold your breath in anticipation of the court’s opinion. Absolute discretion, remember?

So it seems the fashion police are here to stay — at least until the Bersih furor dies down and is relegated to the ramblings of coffee-shop commentators and Youtube satire.

Don’t put away those dusty, post- colonial, communist-phobic statutes yet though, Public Prosecutors and police aren’t done with them yet.

Justina is ostensibly an educator by day and a sometime-successful, always bruised hula hooper by night. She believes the world's economic problems would be solved by commune living and a return to the...

2 replies on “The Fashion Police”


    We certainly need a very soft cushion
    To be able to accept the latest fashion
    Otherwise there'll be plenty of confusion
    In handling the current political situation

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng
    Fri.22nd Jul.2011.

  2. Justina,

    Please have a read of SIS Forum v Syed Hamid Albar [2010] 2 MLJ 378. Ariff Yusof J dealt the the term "absolute discretion" in Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. He held as follows:

    "…the discretion exercised by the honourable Minister is open to an objective assessment by this court in order to determine whether the pre-condition for its exercise has been satisfied on the facts. The decision of the Minister is, by our jurisprudence, not to be regarded as final although the statutory formula may appear to indicate so. Here, as in other provisions, the discretion is to be exercised is stated as being in the honourable Minister’s ‘absolute discretion’. But it must still stand the test of whether it has been properly exercised in law, since the question
    whether the decision has been taken on the ground of public order’ is a question of law."

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