“Where we come from does not determine who we can become. What we look like places no limits on what we can achieve. We should all have the right to express ourselves, all have the right to be heard, all have the right to be what we can be: To reach for the sky and touch the stars. No matter who we are, no matter whether we are man or woman, or rich or poor: My voice, my right. My voice counts.” –Desmond Tutu-
28 April 2012 was the day of Bersih 3.0. Around 250,000 of the rakyat came out in Kuala Lumpur to walk and participate.
After Bersih 3.0, the government filed a civil suit against Bersih’s co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan and nine steering committee members. Defendants five and ten, Arumugam a/l Kalimuthu and Andrew Khoo, are represented by LoyarBurokkers Syahredzan Johan and Edmund Bon, and is one of the MCCHR’s strategic litigation cases. The government is claiming RM122,000 in costs and damage incurred to 15 government owned cars during the rally. They argued that the Bersih organising committee was negligent and failed to take steps to ensure that the rally was conducted peacefully, thus resulting in damage to the cars.
When I first read that the suit against the Bersih committee was a claim of compensation for car damage – a civil lawsuit – I was a little dumbfounded. I expected to see words like “illegal”, “disruption of public peace”, etc. I was expecting to write on a constitutional law article defending the public’s freedom of peaceful assembly, not one which reminds me of my tort of negligence exam paper.
My theory as to why a civil suit is sought this time is to empty Bersih’s pocket by imposing heavy financial burdens. Bersih – being a coalition of organisations and not a profit earning company – would definitely feel the burden if they really do have to pay heavy damages. In emptying Bersih’s coffers, perhaps they are hoping that that would break its spirit and Bersih would then back down and not bring “trouble” anymore.
If this is truly what the government is planning, well, their plan totally backfired. The case took an unexpected twist when six other individuals, including Bersih co-chairperson A. Samad Said, filed an application to intervene in the case and to be added as Defendants in this action. It was this part of the case which stirred me up the most.
Regardless of who you are – lawyer, academician, politician, student or normal citizen – litigation is scary and daunting. In the intervening Defendant’s affidavit (a written declaration made under oath), they indicated their willingness to intervene because whatever decision reached by the court would affect them as organisers of Bersih 3.0 too. My vivid imagination would like to think that they did it to stand by their committee members, to say “Fuck the government. We’re in this together and we are going to fight harder than ever”.
Despite barrier after barrier thrown at the Bersih organisers, they still have not given up. They are still hopeful that their campaign for free and fair elections will succeed and will bring Malaysia to a better place. They fight everyday so that I, sitting in front of my television, can have a freer and fairer voice through a freer and fairer vote.
World “Human Rights Day” is celebrated annually on 10 December. To activists around the world, it is as if Christmas came early. The date was chosen to honour the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which occurred on 10 December 1948. A different theme is chosen by the United Nations (UN) every year to celebrate this special day. The theme for 2012 is “My Voice Counts”.
It was not until typing this article that I realised how important Bersih and the freedom to assemble peacefully is for every citizen in Malaysia. It was important not because it was also held in 18 other countries. It was important not because so many people came. To me, it was important because it was the first time ever in my country where I saw so many people coming out to say “I am here. I am a citizen of this country and my voice counts”, through a peaceful assembly no less.
This is important because in Malaysia, except for the gungho activists, most people like me have never witnessed or participated in a rally. The extent of our knowledge about protests or rallies is what we see on television where people get hurt, where people get robbed, where looting takes place. The only impression we have is that it is dangerous.
By going for Bersih, the statement I am making is, “Yes, it may be dangerous. Yes, I may get hurt. But over are the days where I sit in front of my television complaining about how you rule my country in a corrupted way which I don’t agree with. My country is mine and I get to have a say because everything here affects me. My voice counts and if you don’t listen to me, you don’t deserve to make decisions about things which are going to affect me. If you don’t respect my voice, you don’t get to run my country because I put you there in the first place.”
This is why Bersih and the right to assemble peacefully is so important in making my voice counts. The government knows that I have a voice but they are not intimidated in any way because no matter how strong a voice I have, at the end of the day, as long as they have control over how I channel my voice (elections), they have ultimate control. The fight for free and fair elections has never been more imperative.
The way I see it, the suit against Bersih is not just a suit against Bersih. It’s a suit against the citizens to curb their voices. By intentionally making it difficult (purely my opinion) for Bersih to campaign for free and fair elections, they are indirectly curbing my voice. With the current state of the election system in Malaysia right now, I do not have a voice. Even if I do, it is very very soft. Until Bersih succeeds, it is very likely that I will continue to not have a voice.
The focus of this year’s Human Rights Day is directly on articles in the UDHR which provide for the right of freedom of expression, for the right to peaceful assembly, for the right to free and fair elections. It is for our voices to be heard. On Human Rights Day 2012, we should all take time to think about our voice, the ones we have, the ones we don’t and the ones we should be fighting for.
On Human Rights Day 2012, I know I will stand resolute for my rights without shame, threat or fear. In the future I will continue to participate in all attempts to fight for free and fair elections because I deserve a voice and #MyVoiceCounts.
This applies to “every citizen without exception”. Human Rights Day this year is to remind you that “Your voice, your right. Your voice counts.”