Eschewing “climate of fear”, lawyers march for peace and freedom

bar council presidentIt was a sight to behold with almost a thousand lawyers in suits and carrying placards, walking in the sweltering heat outside the Parliament building.

Malaysia’s legal practitioners came out in full force on 16 October to protest against the Sedition Act in the “Walk For Peace and Freedom” outside Parliament.

The march started around 11.45am at the Padang Merbok carpark, with protesters gathering as early as 10am.

Organized by the Bar Council, it saw mostly lawyers and members of the Bar turning up to oppose the Sedition Act which they say has oppressed freedom in Malaysia since its time of inception.

Armed with a hailer, backed by a sea of black suits and white collars, Bar Council President Christopher Leong said that this struggle, is not just for the Malaysian Bar or their families.

“We do this for the future generation of Malaysia!”

“We are here to claim back the democratic public place. As much as you may try, you cannot stop our freedom of expression, our thoughts. We will ask why!” he said while standing on a pavement under the scorching afternoon sun.

your silence will not protect youThe crowd cheered “mansuh akta hasutan!” (abolish the Sedition Act!) and “hidup rakyat” (“long live the people!”) voicing out their disapproval of the government criminalizing law experts, academics, journalists, activists and opposition politicians for uttering less supposedly “seditious” statements.

Azmi Sharom, who also attended the rally had become the first academic in the history of Malaysia to be persecuted under the act and is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Act with his lawyer Gobind Singh Deo.

Law students also took part in the protest, carrying banners that read “Free Azmi Sharom” and “Mansuh Akta Hasutan”.

“When lawyers march, there must be something very wrong happening in the country; and there is something very wrong with Malaysia today,” said Steven Thiru, Vice President of the Malaysian Bar.

“We Malaysians deserve better!”

“We do not deserve to live in a climate of fear that robs us of our freedom of speech and expression!”

lawyers leading the walkHe said that there has never been a government that promised to repeal and Act that takes more than two years to do it. Prime Minister Najib Razak had announced on July 11 2012 that the National Harmony Act would replace the Sedition Act.

After members of the Malaysian Bar addressed the crowd at Padang Merbok car park, Kuala Lumpur, protesters began to march to Parliament while being assisted by volunteers and the police to control traffic.

The march was intended to deliver a memorandum expressing the collective views of the Bar, opposing the act that has held a tight grip on dissenting voices in the nation.

Answering the call to join the Malaysian Bar in the march were also groups representing the Orang Asli, writers, journalists, artists, and a band of bongo musicians led by activist Adam Adli who will be serving his one year jail sentence after being criminalized under the Sedition Act.

Upon arriving at the entrance of Parliament, Christopher Leong and nine other members of the Malaysian Bar were allowed to enter and meet with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mah Siew Keong to whom he had handed the memorandum.

christopher mah siew keongAccording to Leong, the memorandum is intended to convey to the Prime Minister the need to deliver on his promise to abolish the act and ask Putrajaya to commit to building a fair, just and harmonious Malaysia.

When asked by reporters on how genuine cases of sedition should be handled, he said that there exists fault line in multiracial multi-religious Malaysia, but that these fault lines should be managed not by vague and repressive laws like the Sedition Act.

“The law, if there is to be one to replace the Sedition Act, should be a law to promote the exchange of ideas as well as dialogue to achieve peace, harmony and unity.”

“There should also be another Act which is to ensure that in that public space, nobody will be intimidated or threatened for merely expressing their thoughts.”

“Therefore, the new Act must be very narrow in scope that only criminalizes incitement, threats or acts of racial and religious violence.”

“The act should contain a provision whereby it will be an offence to bring into hatred the royal institution.”

He also asked that the government impose a moratorium on the Sedition Act until it is repealed.

gobind and ramA number of Opposition lawyers also turned up at the march including Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah, Parit Buntar MP Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Kota Kinabalu MP Jimmy Wong, Sepang MP Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming, Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah, Sandakan MP Stephen Wong Tien Fatt, Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim, Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh, Batu MP Chang Tian Chua, Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham,Padang Serai MP N. Surendran, Ipoh Barat MP M. Kula Segaran, Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming, Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching and Seri Delima assemblyman R.S.N. Rayer. – most of them being lawyers or from a legal background themselves.

This is the fourth time the Malaysian Bar has staged a demonstration in its 67 year history.-TheRocket

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