In Praise of Dissent (Reasoned Discourse) and Freedom


October 20, 2014

In Praise of Dissent (Reasoned Discourse) and Freedom

by Azmi Sharom@www.thestar.com.my

When you allow people to express themselves peacefully and when you ensure one group does not harass another group, what you would be achieving in the long term is a peaceful society.–Azmi Sharom

Azmi Sharom 3LAST Sunday a group of people gathered at the Speakers Corner in Penang to protest against the Sedition Act. They did not get very far because a bunch of, now how shall I put this politely, unruly humans shouted abuse at them and harassed them to the point where it was impossible to continue.

Now I think these fellows who wanted to stop the gathering have just as much right as anyone else to voice their opinion. Apparently, they will defend the Sedition Act till their dying breath.

What a wonderfully dedicated lot of humans they are; so very committed, so very brave. Maybe they should get a medal.However, I would like to point out a small point regarding the right to assemble and to speak.

This is not meant for those courageous men who so fearlessly chased away a couple of tourists from Speakers Corner. I am sure their craniums are already full to overflowing with whatever it is they like to put in there and I doubt there is any room in that space between their heroic ears for any new ideas.

No, this message is for the Police. I want them to know about certain international standards regarding protests and counter-protests. I am using international standards because I am certain our men and women in blue would like to be an international-standard police force. Surely they want to be seen as one of the best police services in the world.

Anyway, back to the lesson. Everyone has the right to assemble and speak their mind on issues they think are important.Conversely, those who dislike their point of view also have a right to assemble and speak their minds.

The job of the police, nay, the duty of the Police, is to allow both groups the space with which to express them. However, when you have competing groups, the blood might rise a bit higher than normal and thus, there could be a possibility of unpleasant clashes.

This is why it is the police’s job, nay, duty, to ensure the groups are kept separate.In this way, everybody’s right to expression is upheld. It is not the Police Force’s job to pick sides. It is not their job to allow one group to chase another one away. In fact, it is the antithesis of what they are supposed to do.Now ideally I would like to have a Police Force which truly appreciates the values of a democratic country.

It would be wonderful beyond belief if they understand that when they protect the citizen’s right to speak,they are in truth protectingthe very essence of our independent nation – that is to say, a nation built upon the promise of civil liberties, Democracy and the Rule of law. But if this is too abstract a concept to be passed on, allow me to make another argument.

When you allow people to express themselves peacefully and when you ensure one group does not harass another group, what you would be achieving in the long term is a peaceful society.

Let me explain. If I am going to organise a protest and I know there will be a bunch of unruly humans who will try to break my gathering up, I could do one or two things. First, trust the Police to keep us apart.Or secondly, gather a group of people to confront the unruly humans. The second option could very easily lead to fisticuffs and a whole lot of overweight men wheezing for breath.

Wouldn’t it be better if the cops were to just do their duty and prevent such things from happening?After all, they are always going on about how important peace and security is.Besides, wheezing fat men are most unsightly.

By the way, in case the police think it is better not to let people gather at all, may I point out two things? One, it is our right to gather and to express ourselves. And  Two, if you don’t allow people to speak peacefully and if they get frustrated at the suppression of their rights, that is when people turn to unlawful means to get their message across.

Therefore, no matter how you look at it, if the Police of Malaysia are truly concerned about peace, then they have to get their act together and start behaving according to international standards of respecting everybody’s right to express themselves. Here ends the lesson.

The Kassim Ahmad Defence Fund


October 17, 2014

George Town, Penang

The Kassim Ahmad Defence Fund: Fight Arrogance of Power and Defend Justice

by Din Merican

kassim ahmad1Kassim Ahmad Arrested in Classic Mossad Covert Style by JAWI

On  March 26, 2014, officers of the Jabatan Agama Wilayah Persekutuan (JAWI) went to the northern state of  Kedah. They stormed and broke into the house of Malay scholar and public intellectual, Kassim Ahmad and abducted him in a 5 hour van-ride to Penang and then put him on board a midnight Air Asia flight to KLIA bound for Kuala Lumpur. This was a classic Mossad covert style raid and kidnap which had to be done under the cover of darkness.

JAWI’s territorial limits is only the Federal Territory which is Kuala Lumpur and JAWI had transgressed that territorial limit. But, JAWI  was not bothered. JAWI then interrogated the 80- year old Kassim Ahmad overnight and then charged him in court the next morning for defiling Islam. By then Kassim’s wife had made her way down from Kedah to Kuala Lumur to bail him. But she was disappointed. They refused to allow her to post bail for him because they said the bailor must be a Wilayah Persekutuan resident. And because she is a Kedah resident, she did not qualify. This is one of the perverse things JAWI did. There were many more.

Kassim and RosliUpon advice from his lawyer, Kassim Ahmad filed a Judicial Review to challenge JAWI’s actions. Judicial Review is a special type of legal action where the civil High Court is empowered to review the conduct of public authorities and public bodies from acting in an illegal manner. Because it is a special type of legal suit, a person like Kassim will need a special permission (Leave) to file a Judicial Review.

In Malaysia, defiling Islam is a serious syariah criminal charge. The state of Terengganu even issued a fatwa declaring Kassim Ahmad a Murtad (Apostate). But JAWI did not do that because if it did, then JAWI cannot proceed with the Charge against an apostate as an apostate is, by definition, not a Muslim.

So, what was this serious charge about? Kassim is charged for purportedly delivering an academic lecture at the Perdana Foundation officiated by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. There you have it, this whole covert style prosecution is just about an academic lecture.

Most Muslims in Malaysia, including Judges, will become a bit troubled to show sympathy to anyone who is charged with defiling Islam. So, Kassim’s attempt at getting Leave was rejected because the High Court Judge, Justice Dato Zaleha Yusof, said that the civil courts do not have jurisdiction over a religious body. That seems to be a lame excuse. But never mind.

Kassim had to appeal and  the Court of Appeal agreed with him and directed the High Court to hear the Judicial Review. The Attorney-General’s Chambers then asked for more time to file affidavits for the Religious Minister, JAWI and the Syariah Prosecutor who are the Respondents in the Judicial Review. And this is where JAWI again shows its incoherent behavior as reported by Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini. It would appear JAWI wants to bring about a collision course between the civil court and the syariah legal systems.

READ:http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/religious-court-on-collision-course-with-civil-court-over-kassim-ahmads-cas

READ:http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/269747 

Syariah Courts are located in the same complex as the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court called the Palace of Justice. Anyone who has been to the Palace of Justice will admire its beauty as a Palace. But then, can this beautiful Palace also serve its main function to deliver Justice?

If the Syariah Court insist on proceeding with the syariah criminal trial against Kassim whereasAzmi Sharom 3 there is a Judicial Review pending that has been ordered by the Court of Appeal, then the Syariah Court is courting problem. I suggest the Syariah Judge should introspect if that is what he wants to do- cause a crisis.

Until then, we Malaysians can only show our displeasure to these antics by JAWI by supporting Kassim Ahmad’s cause. We can do that by contributing to his defence fund. We can create this fund to support Kassim Ahmad and all other persecutions that endanger our liberty and freedom. In supporting Kassim Ahmad and others like Azmi Shahrom, we are securing a guarantee of our fundamental liberties.

To show your support, please send your contribution to this Maybank Account No: 514011895152.

 

Fund for Kassim Ahmad and Other Persecuted Activists


October 16, 2014

Legal Fund for Kassim Ahmad and Other Persecuted Activists

Greetings from George Town, Penang

Kassim Ahmad

Defending oneself against persecutors in Government service is a very expensive undertaking. Those persecutors can rely on the resources of the state and have no worry about where to obtain money to defray legal costs and related fees. They will get the money from the Treasury.

People like Kassim Ahmad who is no longer working and other activistsAdam Adli and Hishamuddin Rais are under enormous pressure when they have to defend themselves against the oppressive power of the state and its agents. There is no legal aid for them.Kassim Ahmad is fortunate since he has the services of   my competent lawyer friend Rosli Dahlan, but he must still bear legal fees defending himself in our court, and in his case the Shariah Court.

Azmi Sharom 3Some friends have suggested to me some time ago that a special fund should be created to help individuals like Kassim Ahmad, Hishamuddin Rais, Azmi Sharom, Adam Adli, and others who are charged under the Sedition Act to fight their cases. I was reluctant to do so because funding involves asking money from members of the public. Of late, I was persuaded  because these brave people do need our help.

So I am making appeal to all Malaysians who are prepared of their own free will to make a minimum donation of RM10 each for a worthy cause. Please send your contribution to a special account  at Maybank Berhad.

The account number is 514011895152.

Please give generously. We must do our bit to fight oppression and persecution and defend freedom and justice.  I am asking you to sacrifice a cup of coffee at Starbucks and that should not be hard to do. Thank you.–Din Merican

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark


October 8, 2014

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

by W. Scott Thompson@www.nst.com.my

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

“AROUND the world in 80 days”, or even eight days, might not be a happy trip in 2014. Start with my country: the current issue of political journal Foreign Affairs has a cover saying “See America: Land Of Decay And Dysfunction”. Head south and it’s hard to find success stories. Argentina is in a financial mess, Venezuela is moving back into the hands of the Army and Mexico is all about drugs.

For Europe, the biggest joke is that only Belgium has escaped the financial crisis, mostly because it has no real government and no prime minister during the key years. You can’t blame Germany for being thrifty and resenting to pay for the high life in Greece, Italy and Spain over the last 20 years. A compromise has yet to be found between the northern proponents of austerity and those believing that more consumer spending will get the southern countries out of their doldrums. Unemployment rates at 25 per cent don’t make for easy governance.

Africa is a mixed bag. Even the leading stars in growth, like Ghana, are in financial trouble. Fighting continues in Congo, extremists continue to move south and even if overall, Africa has an average growth rate better than most of the world, it’s too small a part to change things — CNN attempts to show the bright side, notwithstanding.

Let’s just skip the Middle East; it’s a disaster zone and it’s too early to say whether the Islamic State can be stopped — though it has to be. Suffice to say that if IS takes control of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, the best scenario indicates it would take a year or two to evict them. As usual, Iran is a shadow player and in the end, will be the most important one to stabilise the region.

In South Asia, India’s new Prime Minister has made it big at the United Nations, but it’s an open question whether he can really can open up the Indian economy for the rapid growth on which success depends. Let’s not even mention Pakistan.

All the talk about China centres on Hong Kong and what the demonstrations portend. But I would pay more attention to western China, where the Islamic Uighurs are a far bigger headache for the Politburo.

Jokowi WidodoCome to Southeast Asia and you might start smiling. Discussion is dominated by the old forces of the Indonesian military under the leadership of General Prabowo Subianto, in voting out all the moves of decentralisation that have achieved so much since 1999. President-elect Widodo will be sworn into office on October 20; he does not command a majority in Parliament but he hasn’t even begun to use presidential patronage to block Probowo’s attempts to turn the clock back. I wouldn’t bet against the new President’s powers of persuasion and presidential suasion. On balance, we should be very optimistic about Indonesia.

Now, go around the region and just about everything is moving, if slowly, in the right Thailand Democracy Protestdirection. That is, if you see the Thai coup d’état as a necessary evil that will restart the political system without the cost of long-term death to democracy that former PM Thaksin Shinawatra represents. The political establishment has regained control and let’s not forget the 60 years of transformation that the coalition has provided. Next to China, no sizeable state has grown so fast.

Malaysia provides one of the world’s best examples of a tricky balanmalaysia-truly-asia-girls11cing act in providing stability in a multi-ethnic state. It is basically because it is a strong state; even its critics must admit the remarkable success of its leaders. It is gaining ground in the middle income division of the world’s states. The economic model says that countries well-endowed with natural resources are the first ones to fail, relying too heavily on what they can get out of the ground or grow on trees. But it secured independence with strong leaders who changed all that. This is quite an oversimplification, but the bottom line is a big success story.

The PhilippinesNow, welcome to the Philippines, home of, in my experience, the world’s happiest people. Its growth rate is closing the gap with China. Critics say the rich elite is getting more than its fair share, yet, studies of wealth division show the Philippines with not much different a Gini coefficient of wealth distribution than the other countries in the region.

And if nothing else, everybody is benefiting from investments in infrastructure. Bulldozers and backhoes are everywhere, widening roads to population centres, and providing jobs for the best of the young professionals in the all but ubiquitous call centres. President Benigno Aquino III has managed two thirds of his six-year term without an agenda, but he always says the right things and leaves no taint of corruption — leaving aside consideration of some of his associates whom he’s too nice to fire.

Everyone in the region is worried about China’s claim to much territorial waters of littoral states in the South China Sea. My guess is the new President of China is too smart to let its navy push too far. Anyway, if you came from Mars and could live anywhere, you certainly wouldn’t choose Russia or China, most of Africa, and so many other places with deeply rooted problems.

Well, this is a bit subjective for me, having chosen Southeast Asia 50 years ago as a research area that was on the go — and when the world was my oyster and I could live anywhere. I’m glad I chose Bali, the Philippines, and the capital cities of Thailand and Malaysia.

Is Pakatan Rakyat still relevant, asks DAP’s Lim Kit Siang


October 6, 2014

Is Pakatan Rakyat still relevant, asks DAP’s Lim Kit Siang

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Anwar-UbahThe 2008 Coalition of Convenience

DAP strongman Lim Kit Siang has called for an “urgent meeting” of the Pakatan Rakyat Leadership Council to find out whether the alliance “is still relevant to the hopes and expectations of Malaysians”.

In his latest blog posting, he suggested that the members of the council take the opportunity to meet during breaks in the Parliament session that begins tomorrow.

He said there was no denying that the Selangor Menteri Besar controversy had caused the alliance to suffer its worst crisis and most serious loss of public confidence since its formation six years ago.

“The jury is still out whether PR can recover” before the 14th General Election, he added. He said PR was lucky that Selangor Barisan Nasional was too weak to exploit the situation. “But the next time,” he warned, “PR is not going to be so lucky.”

He said DAP, PKR and PAS must address the “critical” question of whether PR “is capable of closing ranks or is at the stage of its end game.” He said the PR leadership council was “virtually crippled” during the MB crisis by the breakdown of its consensus principle.

He said the proposed meeting should reaffirm the component parties’ “commitment and adherence to the PR’s two founding principles – upholding the PR common policy framework and abiding by the PR operational principle of consensus.”

“A working committee with three or four representatives from each PR component party should be entrusted with the urgent responsibility to formulate recommendations as to how PR could learn from the recent crisis,” he said. Kit Siang added, “A repeat of such a crisis would spell the end and demise of the PR coalition.”

 

MB Azmin Ali: Off to a Good Start


October 5, 2015

MB Azmin Ali: Off to a Good Start

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: PKR supporters must have felt a frisson of delight over photographs of Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali clambering onto to dump trucks, peering into clogged drains, and peeking into makeshift homes of illegal residents as the newly-installed state CEO took his touch to the streets in the last few days.

Azmin in Jokowi styleTo them, these are welcome days of vim and vitality after eight months of embarrassing public feuds and excruciating backroom follies that had engulfed the party’s effort to have Khalid Ibrahim replaced as MB of the state. It seems like the arrival of springy sunlight after a long dark passage during which it often seemed that things could not get any worse; that things were rock bottom, until someone or something was heard tapping underneath. It’s not that bad stretches don’t occur in politics; it’s when they threaten to be unending that the trapped feel the joke is on them. Emerging from these straits, they are apt on seeing a vigorous point man blazing a trail, to react like travelers in a desert would upon discovering an unexpected oasis.

Nizar JamaluddinThus photos of Azmin in full kinetic stride stirred memories of the early days of Nizar Jamaluddin (left), the post-tsunami Pakatan Rakyat MB of Perak, a man of torrential energy, reformist passion but evanescent.

No doubt, cynics would be unimpressed at Azmin’s display of new broomism until, perhaps, apprised that in the Kuala Selangor village where Khalid was born, Azmin’s predecessor only had piped water supply installed after he was beaten by competitor Manikavasagam to the chairmanship of the division in PKR’s long drawn out internal polls that ran from late April to early August.A leader that tardy at provisioning a hamlet where he was born is hardly the sort that could succeed at passing off as authentically PKR, as different to an UMNO rethread masquerading in the tricolors of the party born in revulsion at UMNO.

Off to good start

If it takes an infrastructure and drainage inspector’s mentality to be seen as a more effective MB better than Khalid, then Azmin’s off to a good start. After all, wasn’t it a rebuke hurled at Pakatan that the credits Khalid was racking up for their brand in good governance was spoilt by the state chalking up the highest rates in dengue fever incidence.

Rubbish in SelangorA Common Sight in Selangor

Mounds of rubbish uncollected; drains and canals clogged; roads pot-holed badly enough to imperil the life and limb of users, were caveats flung in Pakatan’s face whenever reports appeared that the excellence of Khalid’s management of state finances were set to attain stratospheric heights.

Having breached the RM3 billion in reserves level before the onset of his troubles, it seemed that the man was a genius at conserving money for the state. But to what end when dengue menaced the otherwise healthy, a hard bump on a wet night imperiled unwary road users, clogged drains and canals and stinking refuse heaps made it hard to keep in mind when visitors or residents were in the richest state in the country?

So pictures of Azmin, in what is now being billed as Jokowi-like acrobatics, not only pumps the adrenaline in PKR and Pakatan veins, it should also stir voters and residents of Selangor to refreshed expectations of their MB.The new man has not committed a single misstep, though it appeared he had done so when he ordered a stop to the special aid meant for the needy elderly in his predecessor’s parliamentary seat of Bandar Tun Razak and state seat of Port Klang.

On a second look, the aid has not stopped; it has been rerouted through the PKR-appointed point man for the two constituencies, KhalidKhalid Ibrahim3 having been expelled from the party. There’s nothing wrong with the rerouting.

Of course, tougher issues are up ahead, like the matter of the seized bibles, the water agreement between Putrajaya and Selangor, and the proposed tolled highways that would crisscross prime residential districts in the state.

These are matters of considerable complexity and won’t yield to easy resolution. But a more consultative MB than Khalid, and a more solicitous CEO for the concerns of the public, party (PKR) and coalition (Pakatan) ought to see Azmin in rather better stead than Khalid eventually contrived to be.

It’s hard to see how Azmin could go grievously wrong on these matters unless, of course, he becomes abruptly amnesic or blurry. That happened to Khalid as when he seemed to have lost sight of what the public interest, as distinct to his personal interest, was matters ancillary to and concerning the Putrajaya-Selangor water agreement; and where his corporate persona had to yield to political calculations, as in issues ranging from salary increases for state assembly persons and executive councilors to tolled highways and seized holy books.

If Khalid was often a corporate persona lost in a political thicket, like deer caught in headlights, Azmin looks to be a hardened veteran of the subterranean alleyways in which political battles are sometimes waged. If he can avoid the skullduggery that is a constant temptation of these battles, he may find the MB-ship of Selangor a long-waited opportunity for the display of latent powers.

In that event, for PKR and Pakatan the exercise would amount to a grand retrieval from the doghouse the two were consigned to as the Selangor MB crisis raged for eight shriveling months.