Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series – “It’s the principle”

Last week LoyarBurok was abuzz with news about a lawyers’ protest in Bukit Aman on the abuse of power by the police. It culminated in the submission of a memorandum of protest against the police’s handling of lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad. With most things involving lawyers, who can make a pink elephant turn white, the culmination of one matter breathed life to a host of other issues. That’s why lawyers are arguably the great thinkers of nations.

It started with Haris Ibrahim at The People’s Parliament asking whether the event was a Bar or political party protest here. Views and comments from within the legal fraternity on the Rostrum e-group then surfaced at a frenzied pace.

The great thing about Malaysian activist lawyers is that they deeply care about the cause and you can hear it from the way the posts have been written. Truth be told, the raging arguments here have been debated before in various fora and other places of discourse such as Court canteens and pubs – for years on end now.

But they have never been documented in this way. Once again, LoyarBurok asks the Malaysian Bar how far are we prepared to go, nay, demand that the Bar takes it further! As a member once said in the Bar’s general meeting – while introducing a whole new way of pronouncing the word “fork” – do we take the “fork” to the right or the “fork” to the left?

Post-protest may have been a fallout , but it surely was not a washout. We will take the strength of each argument and take activism to a higher level. After minor editing for language, and to put the posts in context, LoyarBurok, with the consent of the writers, presents: “Peguam Rakyat Protest: The Fallout Series

It’s the principle

I am not sure about how the rest felt but I was very happy that about 150 people, mostly lawyers turned up for the event despite the fact that it was bloody hot, on such short notice and on a working day.

But I believe some of the lawyers had gone home with mixed feelings about the protest, that it somehow became opposition-led (or “hijacked”) and therefore “tainted”; a cheap political stunt and even unbecoming of lawyers to hold banners!

In what way? Just because the prominent participants happen to be affiliated with opposition parties? Throughout the protest, none of them spoke on “political” issues but as lawyers who are similarly concerned with rights to counsel, fair trial and preventive detention, abuse of police powers, etc.

Although I was not at all surprised by such reactions but yet again disappointed that we have to explain and make sense to some of our fellow members of the Bar as to what it means to protest and make a stand based on principles.

Even if they did speak for the opposition, what is the problem if the issues raised are relevant and based on principles? These objectors don’t seem to have a problem in trying to get government officials/ministers to come to their events including the launch of the MyConstitution campaign. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem if these officials can affect change but there should not be double standards just because they are opposition.

For those who did not attend the recent AGM, I have raised the question of the continuous breach of section 28A of the CPC and the denial of legal access to our clients. Unfortunately, there was no concrete answer as to what can be done. So when Amer was manhandled, what do you think we should have done? Another press statement, or just whine about it in the cyberspace? I don’t think so.

I don’t know about you, but I think in the minds of many lawyers and others who turned up – we were there not just in solidarity with our comrade Amer, but for the people’s rights that have been violated. Hence, the words on the banner: “PERTAHANKAN HAK GUAMAN RAKYAT – ARTIKEL 5 PERLEMBAGAAN.”

After all wasn’t it the Bar Council’s own campaign to “merakyatkan” the Constitution? Surely you can’t exclude the rakyat and politicians who are working with the rakyat?

I am glad that several Bar leaders like Ambiga, Ragunath, Edmund, Chee Wee, Andrew Khoo, George Varughese, Anand, and others came and did not think that what we did were not in the best traditions of the Malaysian Bar.

For those who have failed to see the proud history of our profession, let me remind you that great revolutions and movements have been led by lawyers not because they were lawyers but because they chose to stand with the people. The people did not follow these lawyers because of their performance in courts nor because they spoke within the confines of air-conditioned halls. They walked with the people.

I shudder to think how history would have turned out had the people including lawyers not followed Gandhi, Mandela, Obama (who are all lawyers by the way) but instead listened to these petty ideas of how lawyers should behave.

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Posted on 7 April 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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