Freedom cannot be taken away, it was never given by anyone in the first place.
April 22, 2012.
It was a wonderful day. They bought me a cake, sang me songs and showered me with gifts. Happiness was in the air, at least to me.
Just as I was busy indulging, not far away, arrests were being made. Fahmi Reza was said to have broken the law for gathering illegally, while Umar Mohd Azmi was accused of obstructing authority from carrying out their duties.
They are a part of the #OccupyDataran movement – “Reclaim the square. Reclaim our democracy.”
#OccupyDataran is a self-governing grassroots movement involving the common people, aiming to “redefine democratic participation beyond representative democracy, and a new political culture beyond race, ideology and political affiliation”. Participants gather regularly at Dataran Merdeka to share ideas, address problems, explore alternatives, propose solutions and make decisions. “KL People’s Assembly” is part of #OccupyDataran. The movement has now spread to Penang, Kota Bharu, Johor Bahru, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Dungun and Batu Pahat.
Ever since their first assembly, the people’s access to Dataran Merdeka have been interrupted multiple times; reason being that they did not have a permit from the Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur. It appeared that common people were being denied access to the spot where the Union Flag was lowered and the Malayan flag hoisted for the first time on August 31, 1957. Since when did Dataran Merdeka become an ‘elitist’ area?
On April 22, 2012, the police arrested two Occupy Dataran activists – Fahmi Reza and Umar Mohd Azmi who were camping out in Dataran Merdeka. This happened despite the fact that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had given the Occupy Dataran movement the green light to carry on with their activities.
DBKL justified their actions, saying they acted lawfully:
We’re not using any new laws. The ‘undang-undang kecil Dataran Merdeka’ has been there for more than 10 years.
We gave these people a chance before; gave them chances to stop it, to walk away. They did not heed our advice…so we took action today.
The by-law has always been there. It’s just that we did not enforce it before today. Now we are left with no choice but to do so.
Even if you want to lepak (hang out) there, sometimes you can’t simply do that, DBKL’s corporate planning division head Dr Ismail Stapa told The Malaysian Insider.
So why does it concern me? After all, I had my cake. Life still goes on as usual. I still have my access to education. I am free to do whatever I want, wherever I want – movies, shopping, yumcha with friends, tweeting with my iOS phone. My life is not harmed in any way. I am just a student, struggling with my studies.
Because I want my life to stay as awesome as it is – or to become even better than the present – I want to move, to gather whenever and wherever I want. I want my freedom to last. I do not want it to be taken away.
But here on the facts, Fahmi Reza and Umar gathered at Dataran Merdeka, and they were arrested. According to DBKL, Fahmi Reza and Umar Mohd Azmi commited two offences – namely, gathering without a permit and setting up tents at Dataran Merdeka without permission.
Under Section 4(o) of the Local Government (Dataran Merdeka) (Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur) By-laws 1992, it is an offence to ‘erect any tent, booth, shed or other structure’ unless permitted by the Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur in writing. Also, it is an offence to hold an assembly at Dataran Merdeka without a permit from the Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur (section 8). Section 9 gives powers to the Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur to approve, refuse, impose conditions and revoke the permit at any time.
Our right to freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed under Article 10(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution where “all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms”. Several international human rights conventions such as Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), states that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”, while Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of Child also guarantee a child’s right to peaceful assembly.
These instruments do not give us our rights, they guarantee our rights. Freedom cannot be taken away, it was never given by anyone in the first place.
However, the rights we have are not absolute.
The Federal Constitution contains restrictions to freedom of assembly under Article 10(2)(b), which states that the right may be restricted if it is ‘necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof or public order’.
Restrictions to this right are acceptable. We certainly do not wish to see some people create unrest and violence by gathering to burn religious matter, for example. It is not how restrictions are placed upon the right that concerns us, but the applications of such restrictions.
Despite our rights to freedom and liberty, there is also a need to safeguard public safety, public order, public health, public morals and protection of rights and freedoms of others. The security of a state is important as it acts as a mode of defence for the nation and also for individual citizens. Between these two conflicting needs, there must be a balance between the interest of the state to protect national security and the interest of an individual.
I see nothing wrong with participants gathering at Dataran Merdeka. They camped, they shared, they hung banners and posters in the name of freedom of expression – unarmed. In fact, #OccupyDataran unites people from different places, ethnicities, genders and religions. People made friends and spread love. Was the force used by the authorities proportionate to what the participants did? Does #OccupyDataran constitute disturbance of peace or threat to national security in any way?
This has always been a constant fear to me: to see problems arise, yet feeling powerless to do something, to make a change. Hoping for an unknown force to repair things is not going to work. The fear is no longer with me, because I want freedom, just as much as I want to breathe.
The authorities are always on top of the pyramid. We are controlled to acknowledge that they deserve to be there. But it is often forgotten that it is we who form the base of the pyramid. Without our support, they will crumble. We are the powerful ones. The true power lies in us.
We do not wish to see a world where people live in constant fear of being arrested, where parents constantly worry for their children’s safety.
It concerns not just Fahmi Reza, Umar and I, but you too.
We have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Fahmi Reza and the rest of the #OccupyDataran movement have the right to peaceful assembly. Your silence will only symbolise your acknowledgement for the authority to detain innocent people.
The youths are starting to change. I am starting to change. Are you?
Other significant 22nd days of April:
April 22, 1985: Sabah changed its government from BERJAYA, a party backed by BN, to PBS. This was followed by a riot. Read about it here.
April 22, 2010: The #UKM4 – Muhammad Hilman bin Idham, Azlin Shafina binti Mohamad Adzha, Muhammad Ismail bin Aminuddin and Woon King Chai – were arrested for violating section 15(5)(a) Universities and University Colleges Act 1971. This led to the amendment of the Act, resulting in the Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Act 2012.