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They can’t fight you all at once

By Wong Guan Jie

ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. ASASIkini and KPUM does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by the writers. This article was written at the time of the UCU strikes taking place across the United Kingdom.

 

Malaysian Progressives in Australia (MPOZ) is a small group of Malaysians studying in Australia. Our experience of grilling visiting politicians in public forums is illustrative of a pattern visible in Malaysian activism. It shows a shift in the main strategy of certain factions in suppressing activism – from outright censorship, to targeted and public embarrassment of select individuals.
MPOZ gets away with a lot of things in Australia that our typical middle-class parents falsely believe are impossible under a tight surveillance regime. Here’s a selection:

  1. Organise forums with opposition figures and independent activists
  2. Organise protests involving the Malaysian diaspora, including Bersih
  3. Posing tough questions to government officials
  4. Organise discourse on Article 153, ketuanan Melayu, the syariah courts and the concept of nationalism

Why we do what we do

“…there is a need for the Malaysian youth to receive a new political education. We need Malaysians studying abroad to take advantage of their surroundings…”

Things have changed in Malaysian political culture. Bersih protests starting in 2007 displayed mass activism on a scale unheard of since the working-class movement was crushed after May 13. Given the willingness of NGOs and campaign groups to deploy public protest as a tactic, those who attempt to silence activism know that they must be more subtle in these times.
Similarly, there is a need for the Malaysian youth to receive a new political education. We need Malaysians studying abroad to take advantage of their surroundings, where they can observe and participate in the full range of democratic activity, up to and including civil disobedience and strike action. If we live and breathe the potential of democracy overseas, we crave it more when we return home. Our country is undergoing a messy transition and one needs training to navigate the maze.
New members often join MPOZ tentatively, terrified of risking their safety. But the truth is more innocuous than this. We do know that we are already being watched, but we also know they won’t risk going after us unless we do something really over-the-top.

Nobody can hear you scream

In our four years or so of existence as a group, there has been a single direct attempt to silence us. It happened in Perth, where an important official from the consulate led one of our members to his car to “talk” under the watch of two Special Branch officers.
The said official’s paranoid methods are reportedly causing trouble for even the non-political Malaysian clubs, who must seek his approval for many events. Aside from this, the attempts to silence voices overseas are often indirect. The quickest way to shut down a group like ours is to prevent new members from ever meeting us in the first place.
We are the only non-government linked political student group operating in Australia, to our knowledge. Those who attempt to silence student voices often use their influence over Australian student groups such as MASCA and the local UMNO clubs, EHSAN and ISMA branches, to pre-emptively warn students of the terrifying dozen-strong group of godless communist troublemakers that lurks in the library across the street every other Friday evening.
Most of these new students never bother to dig further. They take our fliers, smile, and disappear. A few move up the student bureaucracy and spend their later uni years trying to sit with the top leadership of political parties. Occasionally, when the threat is sufficiently serious, scholars will be “gently” reminded that their participation in politics is a breach of contract. This was their strategy during overseas Bersih rallies. It works; none of our guests have ever identified themselves as scholarship holders. Conversely there is zero effect on non-scholarship holders. General disdain for politics is a much larger problem for us.

Not once have we felt that we would get in trouble for saying something. The challenge is instead getting people to listen. And paradoxically, this sometimes involves toning down our message, framing a firm political position as a discussion. Only in this sense do authorities have control over how we exercise our freedom. Even then, we pull no punches when we debate political issues internally.

“Malaysia does not have the resources to hunt down every dissident. It goes after figureheads. Anything that attracts and inspires the mass of people; a clown portrait, a defaced mural, Anwar, Maria Chin. It counts on making an example of a handful to silence the rest.”

Thriving on the margins

By remaining resolutely independent of corporate or political party influence, we ensure that risks to shut us down remain minimal. We have avoided the fate of every other well-meaning political discussion initiative by Malaysian clubs, which have lasted no more than a few years before being neutered by the threat of funding cuts.

The cloud of fear hangs over Malaysians wherever they go. But a handful resist because they find little meaning in their overseas study otherwise. Only after taking the step into activism do they realise that the wall holding back everyone else from getting involved is a paper-thin illusion.
Malaysia does not have the resources to hunt down every dissident. It goes after figureheads. Anything that attracts and inspires the mass of people; a clown portrait, a defaced mural, Anwar, Maria Chin. It counts on making an example of a handful to silence the rest. But the reality is that we can comfortably say that there are neither means nor will available to shut us down just yet.

Freedom is a constant struggle

When you think of democracy as more than just voting slips and public forums, you understand that liberation is not a status, it is a process. In the UK and Australia, Malaysians turn up thinking they’re in a free country only to realise that anti-protest laws, anti-terror laws, anti-strike laws and the long arm of conservative corporate media stand ready to step on the oppressed all the same.
Long ago people died fighting their own state for the freedoms they enjoy. But it is a proud tradition that lives on. You are in the midst of a righteous university strike at this very moment. Every day you watch the people around you defy the state and the bosses to win the rights and wages they deserve.

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor.” – MLK

Freedom is not for a talented leader to negotiate for you. It is not handed down, bit by bit, “when the people are ready”. And it is definitely not a privilege reserved for the “loyal” and “patriotic”. It is won, through struggle and confrontation, with the people who benefit from our silence and would deploy violence and hatred to stop us. Every time I look at armed riot cops here facing down a peaceful protest, I think of the FRU. The differences are superficial.

People power is like a muscle. You must practice it if you want it to grow strong. And you will have to continue practicing it for the rest of your life. Do not fear them. Be their nightmare. Make it so that no matter where they turn they see people who are willing to take them to task for their crimes. And never be satisfied with “just enough freedom”. None of us are free until all of us are free. Go out and join a group. It’s never too late to start.


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Campaign Writings

Do we really have free speech?

This article has been published anonymously in order to protect the identity of the author. Both the author and ASASIkini look forward to the day when such anonymity is no longer necessary.

Everyone should be entitled to freedom of speech and expression, as per guaranteed in Article 10 of our Constitution (albeit subject to certain restrictions). As citizens living in a democratic country, we should be entitled to not only having a chance to vote during elections, but also to be able to critically discuss and engage with pressing issues faced within the political realm. Although, in general, we do get this opportunity to speak freely about political issues amongst the people around us, but in reality, it is rather difficult to do so openly, especially as students confined in institutions that are tangled with webs of political links and pressures.

Institutional constraints

I was a student at an institution similar to what has been described above – one that is heavily linked politically, due to it being owned by a government-linked company. Despite continuous reassurances and promises that students there would be treated and nurtured as adults stepping into the ‘real world’, the reality was that we were made to conform to their strict rules and regulations. I will not be touching on all of the issues faced by the students in this institution, but instead I will be just focusing on a particular experience of mine which, in my view, downright stripped our liberties as Malaysians.

free speech quote

Human Rights Watch calls for Malaysia to stop punishing students for speech. Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/21/malaysia-stop-punishing-students-speech

‘Controversial’ speakers?

I was chosen to lead and direct a prestigious annual event which saw students from schools and colleges all around Malaysia gathering for an entire day, mainly to discuss about pertinent societal, economic, and political issues that faced our nation at that time. As a norm, based on previous years, we invited well-known, qualified individuals, all excelling at their individual fields, as guest speakers to shed a light on important issues that surrounded the nation at the time. This included inviting speakers from both the ruling party in Malaysia as well as individuals who were either a part of the opposition party, or were known for being openly critical about the governing party.

After months of hard work in preparing for the event, with just a month left to go before the day of the event itself, we were instructed by the higher authorities within our institution to either disinvite the opposition speakers, or to indefinitely postpone the event until speakers who were ‘better suited’ could replace them. Their main underlying reason for doing so was due to their concern of the so-called ‘controversial’ speakers; they were worried that they would openly challenge the government within the confinement of students, which would lead to the tarnishing of the institution’s image, as viewed by the management and authorities controlling the institution.

“After months of hard work in preparing for the event, with just a month left to go before the day of the event itself, we were instructed by the higher authorities within our institution to either disinvite the opposition speakers, or to indefinitely postpone the event…”

We were, of course, outraged. The main reason for the event being held every year was to provide a platform for the bright, young minds of the nation to freely and openly discuss pressing national issues; the changes proposed by the authorities fundamentally undermined this. As a result, we came to a consensus to cancel the event altogether, in an effort to preserve the integrity of the event. What happened to us were, of course, alarming, but it was not surprising. There are, in fact, many cases where ‘controversial’ speakers were outright banned from giving talks and presentations in universities across Malaysia. There were also situations where polemical topics were barred from being discussed in classrooms. These incidents still persist within the field of education in our country today.

anis-tangkapmo1

In 2016, four Universiti Malaya (UM) students were found guilty of participating in the “Tangkap MO1” rally. Photo source: http://bestfbkl.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/four-universiti-malaya-um-students-who.html

As a law student studying in the UK now, I am rather surprised at the liberties given to both the students and lecturers. Here, it is commonplace to critically debate about political topics within classes and lectures, and guest speakers are, unlike Malaysia, encouraged to touch on controversial issues (such as Brexit and the competence of the Conservative Party). In contrast, we cannot even make open statements about the 1MDB scandal without having fears of political backlash by relevant authorities.

Capture

Malaysia was ranked 97 out of 159 countries in the Human Freedom Index run by Cato Institute. Source: https://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index

The future of free speech in Malaysia

The important question now arises: how are we progressing as a democratic nation when the education of students (as future leaders of the country) are hindered and clouded by political agendas? It is extremely disappointing to see the freedom and rights of students in Malaysia being diminished this way. Open discourse and intellectual pursuits should be encouraged, not undermined.Freedom of speech is essential for change, and has been crucial throughout history, and only once this freedom is restored, will it allow society to further develop and progress. I certainly hope that this pressing issue faced within the realms of our education system will be addressed and amended in the near future, and that the young minds of our generation will be made aware of challenges such as these which ultimately hamper the progress of our country.


This article has been published anonymously in order to protect the identity of the author. Both the author and ASASIkini look forward to the day when such anonymity is no longer necessary.


ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. ASASIkini and KPUM do not necessarily endorse the views or opinions of the writers.

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Campaign Writings

“We had to drink toilet water” #ZeroBrutality

Stories from prisoners, detention camps and what it took to survive.

by Shereen Goh
bersihBersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur when police attempted to arrest a protester, 30th April 2012
Source : Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/01/malaysia-end-police-abuses

 

Quick check before you continue reading the article :

  1. Are you familiar with the notion of ‘police torture’?
  2. Have you heard/do you know of anyone who has been involved in cases of police torture?

If your answer to both of the questions above are ‘no’, then this article is the right piece for you! (Even if you answered ‘yes’, continue reading and you might discover some new facts 🙂 )

Categories
Campaign Writings

These 5 people died in custody. And they’re not the only ones. #ZeroBrutality

by Nivetha Sri Shanker & Allyna Ng

In just 4 years, almost 250 people have died while in police custody. Here’s what happened:

#1 S. Bala Murugan (44 years old)

Bala’s daughter, Yanika, 14 holds up the police report with her mother.

balamurugan
Photo from: The Malay Mail, e-paper,  ‘Family Claims Police Brutality in Custodial Death’

While in court, Bala began bleeding severely from his mouth and vomiting blood. The judge ordered police to release him to receive medical treatment or be rushed to the hospital.

Yet mere hours later, he was found dead in his cell.

It turns out that police officers defied the judge’s order and brought him into custody instead. There was no record of this arrest, but Bala’s lawyer, Mr Gerard Lazarus claimed that he sustained severe injuries from being beaten in detention.

The evidence: His body had a large bruise on the chest and wounds on the shoulder as if scalded with hot water among other bruises and scratches. Multiple blunt force injuries to various parts of the body including the chest, head, legs and back triggered heart failure.

Inspector T. Mohaneswaran has been charged for intentionally causing hurt. The case remains ongoing in the magistrate’s court.