Suppressing dissenters stifles democracy

Dissent is one of the central elements of democracy. But when such dissenting voices start to make the leaders feel threatened, they normally opt for an offensive approach – that is, by labelling a person a traitor. But, we have to recognise that constructive criticism against one’s government is not sedition, rather, according to the American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, dissent is the highest form of patriotism. The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) faces continuous calls for political and legislative reforms, particularly since the 2008 general election, where they lost the two-thirds majority in Parliament. These pressures come from not only the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), but also from the civil society that has been expanding ever since. Since then, more warnings have become visible of the leadership’s anxiety about these appeals for greater freedom and democracy in the country.

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The rich got rich faster than the poor

e1525ecc7c8d00fbafdfd6e599083b2b.jpgGrowing cases of child abuse and negligence in Malaysia are becoming a serious issue for the government and the general public. Just recently in Butterworth, the father of a 7-year-old girl who was found abandoned and abused in an apartment was charged under Section 31(1)(a) of the Child Act 2001. However, it is not an issue of child abuse alone. These cases also highlight another significant problem: the enormous amount of stress that the people living in poverty feel in their daily struggle to make ends meet. In many cases, the parents might be financially unstable or poorly educated. Such forms of scarcity could then lead to abusive behaviour. Similarly, homelessness is another great concern that affects thousands of people across the country. The awful part is that people who are homeless are generally blamed for their homelessness. The public typically perceive homeless people as lazy. The fact is, the presence of homelessness in the city indicates the failure of government to provide adequate social welfare for the poor. In recent years, various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social groups have been stepping up to provide assistance in terms of food, clothing, medicine and so on to homeless people.

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We unite, therefore we protest

Lawyers don’t march every day. But if they march, then something must be very wrong. That was what the then-chairman of the Bar Council Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said during the “Walk for Justice” by the lawyers in 2007. What Ambiga said was right. Unfortunately after seven years, lawyers once again have no option but to march again. Why are people prepared to protest or march for a cause? It is a question that has intrigued not only the academic community but also the general public. The heart of every protest originates from grievances. It could be feelings of injustice, inequality or relative deprivation. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly”. Certainly this time around, amidst the “crazy” numbers of arrests made under the Sedition Act in this year alone, would you not want to protest?

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Protesters are not criminals

May Day last Friday witnessed thousands of Malaysians taking to the streets to demand that the goods and services tax (GST) be abolished. More than two dozen protesters, including activists and opposition politicians, were arrested. Similar to the March 7 #KitaLawan rally, the arrests only started after the rally. Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, former Bersih 2.0 co-chair and former president of Malaysian Bar, was among those arrested. Also arrested were Seremban member of parliament (MP) Anthony Loke, Kuala Krai MP Dr Hatta Ramli, Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli, Batu MP Tian Chua, Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general S. Arutchelvan and activist Hishamuddin Rais. Tian Chua was arrested after speaking at a Permatang Pauh by-election ceramah and reportedly treated roughly by the police.

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Political survival at the cost of its people

Malaysia is in a political turmoil. Critics at home and abroad see Malaysia’s leadership moving downwards. The past year has seen Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s rule increasingly described as authoritarian. The vulnerability of the economy and the undermining of rule of law affect both the political and economic spheres in the country. Last week, lawyer Matthias Chang was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012. This followed his client Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan’s detention under Sosma after he made several reports overseas against the troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). In unprecedented and rare comments, Malaysia’s royalty have also called for a transparent investigation into 1MDB. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) announced there would be no prosecution despite Bank Negara Malaysia requesting a review of the prosecutor’s decision that no further action was required on 1MDB regarding false disclosures.

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Human rights are no jargon

12239560_553685104782990_7520679424001966569_nIn conjunction with International Human Rights Day on December 10, I was invited to present a talk on “Introduction on Human Rights” yesterday, organised by Democracy Academy of Malaysia and the Civil Rights Committee of Kuala Lumpur at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. This year marks the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). I am always excited, yet anxious whenever I receive an invitation to either speak or discuss human rights. I am excited because I get to share my thoughts by speaking on the topic. I am also anxious because everyone has their own interpretation when it comes to human rights and it is never easy to come to agreement.

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Do not confuse loyalty with blind obedience

Recently, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad lashed out at Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s policy on Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M), calling it a form of bribery. Instead of giving monetary handouts, Dr Mahathir suggested that the government increase the people’s income by way of creating opportunities for work or business. In his blog, Dr Mahathir wrote that BR1M also increased the tendency towards personal dependence on the government without any personal effort. That could potentially lead to the weakening of people’s character and at the same time reduce their competitiveness in the marketplace. I couldn’t agree more with Dr Mahathir on this. Dr Mahathir is also right in that government money is derived through taxes on the people and people would not like to see the taxes they pay expended in such a way. Most importantly, neither would people want their hard-earned money expended on winning popularity for anyone, political parties or administrators. Continue reading