IT feels like a season is upon us, when elected representatives from Pakatan Rakyat are being sent one after another to the courts to be charged for various reasons. At the time of writing, the following are the MPs and ADUNs who have been hauled up so far this year:
Tian Chua (MP Batu) - charged for sedition on 14 March 2014, for making a call to rise up against racism and graft
Teresa Kok (MP Seputeh) - charged for sedition on 6 May 2014 for her ‘Onederful Malaysia’ video
N Surendran (MP Padang Serai) - charged for sedition on 19 Aug 2014 for a statement made in April criticizing the judgment of the Sodomy 2 case
Nizar Jamaluddin (ADUN Changkat Jering) - charged for criminal defamation on 25 Aug 2014 for comments made against PM Najib Razak
Khalid Samad (MP Shah Alam) - charged for sedition on 26 Aug 2014 for calling for the stripping of MAIS’s executive powers
RSN Rayer (ADUN Seri Delima) - charged for sedition on 27 Aug 2014 for uttering “UMNO celaka” at state assembly
Today on Thursday, Aug 28, both Rafizi Ramli and N Surendran will have been charged again, this time under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Sedition Act respectively.
Of particular note to civil and human rights advocates will be the fact that all of the charges under the Sedition Act flies in the face of the announcement made by PM Najib Razak on 11 July 2012 to repeal this draconian act. His commitment to repeal this oppressive, colonial era legislation more than two years ago is clearly but sweet words spoken - at that time - to appease middle Malaysia in the run-up to the 13th General Election.
While we may never know the true reason Najib faltered on this supremely significant promise, it is clearly a possibility that the political pressure piled by his detractors (most notably Tun Mahathir) could be a factor. The argument most often used, which any ardent armchair critic of Malaysian politics can see, is that Najib’s stewardship of Umno-BN failed to regain the psychological two-thirds majority in Parliament, failed to regain the ‘crown jewel’ that is Selangor, and even lost the popular vote to Pakatan Rakyat.
While Najib has made good on his commitment to repeal the ISA, lift three Emergency Declarations, and enact the Peaceful Assembly Act, critics have questioned whether civil liberties in Malaysia have gotten any better at all. The fact that a whole slew of court cases were initiated against organizers of the Black505 gatherings last year probably colours this argument.
All in all, there seems to be a climate of repressing and curtailing the activities of Putrajaya’s political opponents. In fact, I dread the thought that I’m even second-guessing myself while writing this article, for fear that censorship or some other kind of action would be taken against me.
Is this a healthy environment for our democracy to be in? (Given the spate of legal action taken of late, some may question if we are even a democracy, let alone a “world-class” one.)
It is perhaps the best time right now, against the backdrop of this political dragnet, for us to reflect on the spirit of Merdeka and that sacred proclamation made 57 years ago. I cannot but feel that our forebears did not fight hard and brave to secure our independence from the colonialists, only for the mantle of fear and the iron fist of oppression to be then worn by our very own political leaders.
I leave you thus, dear readers, with this question: What is the real meaning of Merdeka for us today?
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.