Whose Right Is It Anyway?

This was a piece JoFan contributed last year to the second print issue of Brickfields Asia College’s campus magazine, after the first ever #IdolaDemokrasi gameshop at BAC.*

On the 22nd of October 2012, Brickfields YAG held the #IdolaDemokrasi gameshop  at BAC in collaboration with UndiMsia!. This article is not written to report on the event but rather to raise an issue I have observed as I facilitated one of the modules in this gameshop.

For a quick run-through, #IdolaDemokrasi is a participant-based, fun and mindset-shifting gameshop aimed at opening up one’s perspective on what a true democracy is. It helps participants realize the realities and limitations of Malaysia’s representative democracy system, challenging them to take action as we believe that people power is not signified by a mere vote once every five years.

Being a part of Brickfields YAG (Youth Action Group) and UndiMsia! , I facilitated a few modules of this gameshop with a highly opinionated and vibrant group of participants. In one of the segments called “Where Do You Stand?”, I asked participants about issues on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and same-sex civil unions. They were required to form groups based on whether they agree, disagree or remain undecided. This sparked some interesting debate from different points of views. Eventually, they came to realize that it is okay to disagree with one another and that it’s possible to debate on issues without getting personal. In fact, some pleasantly discovered how their friends hold vastly differing views from them. Our objective for that activity was thus achieved.

However, one thing caught my attention when we were discussing freedom of assembly. A participant disagreed with the acts of the veteran army members who did the butt-protest in front of Datuk Ambiga’s house, but at the same time agreed for people’s freedom to protest for free and fair elections on the streets of KL. Before I go on, I must emphasize that there is no such thing as a wrong opinion; this participant raised a valid point in distinguishing the motivations behind these two protests.

Of course, this was not the only incident where I encountered such views. There are certain political parties as well who campaigned to abolish the Official Secrets Act but yet threatened to use it on a rival politician in a state which they govern. One might argue that it is ultimately the “noble fight” that matters. I do not disagree, but I reckon that as law students and future lawyers – as people who uphold the rule of law – we should start tackling such issues from a different point of view.

The question is, don’t the BERSIH protestors and army veterans both have the same freedom to assemble under the Federal Constitution? Don’t all political parties (in fact, don’t we all) have the same freedom to obtain and distribute information under international human rights standards? If we believe that all is equal before the law, shouldn’t we uphold one’s right no matter how much we disagree with their political views or appalling looks?

Parliament has given us lawyers (to-be) a special mandate under Section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act 1976:

To uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour.

Do realise that the legal profession is the only one given such a statutory mandate!

It is not wrong to have different political beliefs and inclinations. In fact, it is highly important for us as Malaysians to take part in nation-building through means other than the ordinary. I believe however that human rights are universal. Some may find this to be at odds with claims that human rights is a western concept, but it should be an established fact that everyone on this planet possesses the same need for food, housing and a decent life (also something the participants learn in one of our other modules of the gameshop) regardless of ethnicity, religion or political beliefs. There cannot be any double-standards where one deserves a right more than another, if we choose to subscribe to the view that all men are equal under the law.

Whether or not one is from the government, the opposition or an extremist, under legal procedures, one should be allowed to express his views and obtain equal legal rights. As much as one can be a thorn in our flesh, it should be recognized that he still has a life to live, a family to provide for, with loved ones who care. As law readers and practitioners, it is not our professional business to judge anybody’s stance, but to uphold their rights and the rule of law. Legal consequences would follow accordingly for any breach of law committed.

In the context of football, we are merely referees who make sure that the rules of the game are adhered to; the game is theirs to play.  President Obama recently told the UN General Assembly that “the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech.” Our role is to make sure that such is done properly with all participants equally heard. Should you doubt the impartiality of the judiciary, let the public decide and let the truth prevail. It is not right to deprive them of their fundamental rights.

So, let me ask this once more: You have been a supporter of freedom of assembly all your life. Now, the army veterans or an anti-Bersih group is charged for illegal assembly. Would you defend them?

I would say you are obliged to.

JoFan is part of a movement in Brickfields and BAC called Brickfields YAG, where they call themselves ‘yaggers’. This is a group aimed at activating youths from complainers to become doers. They meet every two weeks on Mondays in college at 4pm and have great plans for the year ahead. Follow @BrickfieldsYAG on Twitter and LIKE us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/BrickfieldsYAG.

To know more about UndiMsia, follow @UndiMsia and checkout http://www.facebook.com/UndiMsia.

*All photos were from the author’s camera

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JoFan serves at the pleasure of Lord Bobo in His Supreme Eminenceness' cause of world domination. He is mind-controlled by the Great Ape to do things like tweet and read law. As a minion, he wears quite a few hats, appearing most active in UndiMsia. He recently also infiltrated KPUM, the UK's Malaysian Law Students' Union as part of his mission to the UK. Playing FIFA keeps him alive.

Posted on 25 February 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to Whose Right Is It Anyway?

  1. Working Class

    Hm…I would be obliged to concur that the army veterans have a right to express their opinions as citizens of democratic Malaysia. However, as a civilized human being, I am inclined to criticize their way of expressing their opinion as vulgar and condescending.

    In other words, I see your point in this post. We must remember to make the distinction between opinion and right. Our differing opinions gives us no reason to take away another's right.