Posted: 18 Apr 2016 04:51 AM PDT
APRIL 14, 2016)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — On Thursday the High Court here rejected yet another challenge to the Sedition Act, paving the way for the government's record-breaking case against the political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, to proceed. Zunar faces up to 43 years in prison on nine counts of sedition — the most counts anyone in Malaysia has ever been charged with.
In February, the police hauled in another cartoonist, Fahmi Reza, for drawing Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown. (Mr. Fahmi has since been released.) The latest to be summoned were three lawyers who asked the Malaysian Bar to remove Attorney- General Mohamed Apandi Ali from his post for refusing to prosecute Mr. Najib over alleged financial improprieties. Their motion was deemed to be seditious because the attorney general is appointed by the king, and a challenge to him is seen as a challenge to the king himself.
The act, which was amended after race riots in 1969, prohibits any action that might "raise discontent or disaffection" among Malaysians. It was enacted by the British colonial authorities, mostly to stamp out criticism from communists. But the Najib administration, after pledging to repeal the archaic law, is now wielding it to silence anyone who questions the state, or even the political status quo. This is an unprecedented onslaught against free expression in Malaysia, and an attempt to muzzle the entire population.
On Feb. 25, soon after The Malaysian Insider reported that an independent oversight panel within the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission had found sufficient evidence of financial improprieties by Mr. Najib, Internet regulators blocked access to our site. They claimed that our story would confuse the public because the attorney general had already announced there wasn't enough evidence against the prime minister.
Our site remained accessible outside Malaysia, but the block order shut us out of the Malaysian market, and our advertising revenue, which already was weak, then flatlined. With no worthy bids forthcoming from potential buyers, on March 14, after eight years of operation, The Malaysian Insider was closed by its owners.
Fifty-nine of us lost our jobs. Malaysia lost one of its few independent news sources. And the communications and multimedia minister defended the government's position by suggesting that The Malaysian Insider published content as "undesirable" as pornography.
Of course, Malaysia has never been a truly free and open society. In the late 1990s, then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), promised freedom on the Internet to attract Silicon Valley start-ups and propel Malaysia into the cyberage. But the Internet and mobile phones were beyond the reach of many Malaysians back then, so Mr. Mahathir had little cause to place any limits on them. And he shut down several newspapers in 1987, on security grounds, while generally keeping a tight leash on traditional media.
Mr. Mahathir's successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, also of UMNO, was more lenient, partly on the advice of a coterie of young advisers. Online news portals mushroomed. Social media flourished. This was the period when cartoonists such as Zunar and Mr. Fahmi came to prominence, beyond just doodling for newspapers. But critics within UMNO pointed out that Mr. Abdullah had given too much away when under his tenure the party lost a commanding parliamentary majority between one election and the next.
Mr. Najib replaced Mr. Abdullah in 2009, and for a while all was well. In response to growing rifts between the country's Malay, Chinese and Indian populations, he announced the "1Malaysia" program, a campaign to encourage national unity, diversity and pluralism. His government repealed draconian security laws that allowed detention without trial.
But just like the Mahathir administration had done, the Najib administration reversed itself after a few years in office. UMNO, which was first created to represent and unite Malay interests, was still failing to make inroads with non-Malays. It lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election. The party and its allies managed to secure a majority in Parliament thanks only to the weighted distribution of seats in Malaysia's electoral system, which benefits small rural constituencies, UMNO's traditional strongholds.
Opposition politicians and civil society activists were the first to be hassled for exposing the outrageous details of 1MDB's losses and Mr. Najib's apparent windfall. After that it was journalists and cartoonists.
The Najib administration is desperate to control what is said about these sordid scandals and suspected wrongdoings. It feels especially threatened by nontraditional media outlets, which are widely accessible to the public: The Malaysian Insider was a free news portal published in both English and Malay; Zunar distributes many of his cartoons via social media, some free of copyright and with the permission to reuse them.
My colleagues and I have already lost our jobs. Zunar may yet lose his freedom. Surely, Malaysia is losing its way.
Posted: 18 Apr 2016 04:48 AM PDT
18 April 2016 – Malaysiakini (Harinder Singh Randhawa)
Two years heretofore, on this fateful day, this nation lost a man. A man who was just as ordinary but chose, to be an uncommon man – for he felt that this was his right. He was a lawyer and a statesman. More than that however, he cherished a place that was vastly more sacred and noble in form: in the hearts of commoners.
He was their hero. He was a selfless defender and guardian of the law and righteousness, a friend to the marginalised and oppressed. A towering beacon of hope he was, for those whom the roots of injustice had imperiled. He was Karpal Singh – the people's lawyer.
Karpal was an indefatigable and gallant defender of the Rule of Law and the Malaysian constitution. He fought both – in the causes he believed in and the causes of the people at large, fierily without any fear or favour. And the price for this – came hefty in form of detrimental consequences to Karpal and his family.
In 1987, he was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) during Ops Lalang, without trial, for two years. His family, unsure each long day that passed if there was to be food on the table the next, as Karpal was the sole breadwinner of the family. They lived, dashed with uncertainty, about the fate that was to be.
Upon his release from detention in 1989, many had expected a dispirited and crestfallen Karpal to trudge through the overshadowing gates of the Kamunting Detention Camp. Some had even gone to the extent of predicting that he would withdraw from the political arena completely. A detention without trial under the ISA was harsh and unforgiving. Detainees were subject to vile and iniquitous treatment. What more when his detention stretched over a period of two years.
However what came, was instead a man who marched valiantly through those very gates; enraged and even more determined, to set proper the course of justice that had been misdirected and trampled upon. This was what inspired people the most about Karpal. His warrior-spirit. Despite the impossible odds that may be, he was one to ever see pass them with ultimate optimism.
He was not a lawyer who won every case that he took on. He too, had his fair share of losses. What was admirable about Karpal was the fact that every case he fought, he fought with diligence and courage. He gave every legal challenge he mounted an equal and unqualified share of his utmost best. No case was paid less attention to or given less priority. If he lost a case, it would be with dignity. His clients, too, knew this well.
Lionhearted, Karpal was. A man so true to what he believed in, that no possible form of affliction, persecution or injustice, could ever cause him to be untrue to what he held on to and triumphed so dearly. In his words: "They can lock me up, they can do whatever they want to me. But I know that I'll be in there with my integrity intact." He represented a fearless source of unfettering inspiration to all.
Independence and forthrightness
What led Karpal to command the respect of the legal fraternity and his political opponents was his independence and forthrightness in giving legal interpretations truthfully, as they stand. This was the case several different times even when it failed to favour Karpal or his political standing. He remained steadfast to his principles in upholding the Rule of Law.
Many of Karpal's cases were also taken on a pro bono basis. He refused to accept payment or legal fees. This was especially such when a client had been a victim of manifest injustice. As he said to Anwar Ibrahim when the family attempted to pay him for his legal services rendered: "How could I accept payment from you, Anwar!? You've been a victim of injustice. You fought them and they're persecuting you! Don't talk to me about money again. I'm a man with dignity."
The news of his passing in the wee hours of April 17, 2014 shook the nation.
The people lost their hero. Their defender, their guardian, their inspiration, gone forever. Many were unaccepting at first, suspicious of a hoax as similar messages and news had also circulated several times before. But as the hours went by, it was confirmed. The Tiger of Jelutong had passed on.
A three-day wake was held at Karpal's home in Penang. People, citizens from all walks of life, in the hundreds of thousands, thronged to pay their last respects to their hero, on his final journey. Men and women, of all races, ages, creeds and colours, stood by his coffin, teary-eyed and some even crying uncontrollably, as they bid the people's lawyer, farewell. This just stood to show lucidly the place he enjoyed and held in the hearts of the ordinary men and women of this nation.
It is said that there will never again be another like Karpal Singh – at least for a long time to come. However, I beg to differ. We are all Karpal. We should all aspire in his aspirations for justice, integrity and freedom and bring effect to these notions. We are change.
Live his dream and walk in his shadow. He taught us exactly on how not to fear the government and for that is what we must do. Let us not disappoint in what Karpal devoted his life to. Even in his passing, he remains a beacon of hope and a tower of inspiration shadowing over us. Reminding us, that even an ordinary man can make extraordinary changes, if he wishes to.
Thank you Mr Karpal, for all that you had dedicated unwaveringly to this nation, its people and its defining fundamentals.
You were a true Malaysian.
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