KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 ― They started gathering at the Padang Merbok carpark from before 10am and by the time the Malaysian Bar Council’s “Walk for Peace and Freedom” was slated to start, there was a crowd of about 200 lawyers andmembers from several non-government organisations.
Malaysian Bar president Chris Leong told the crowd, “We are here to claim back democratic public space. We are here to say as much as you try, you can’t stifle speech. You can’t stop expression of thought by thinking Malaysians.
“We are here this morning in the sun, in the car park, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur not for ourselves alone. We do this not for our friends alone, we do this not for our families alone, we do this not for our fellow Malaysians alone but for the future generations of Malaysia.
“The Sedition Act is a law specifically designed to shut you up and we have seen the unprecedented use of this abusive act in the last three months against, students, law professors, lawyers, journalists, members of civil society, members of parliament and members of state assemblies.
“We demand the government to abide by its pledge to repeal the Sedition Act.”
While waiting for the march to start, the energetic crowd chanted “Mansuh Akta Hasutan” and “Hidup Malaysia.”
Various members of the Bar Council like Steven Thiru, Firdaus Husni, Syahredzan Johan, and Richard Wee took turns to address the crowd which grew to about 400 people.
Steven, the Malaysian Bar’s vice-president, said Malaysians could no longer wait for the government to repeal the Sedition Act, noting that two years had passed since the prime minister pledged to repeal the colonial-era law.
“We are stand here today because we defy all forms of oppression, we defy all forms of injustice, we defy all forms of repression.
“We want the Sedition Act to be repealed, not tomorrow, now. We are not waiting for next year,” he said, reiterating his observation that the law has been used to the “hilt”.
Andrew Khoo, the co-chair of the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee, noted that the United Nations is set to vote for new members into its Security Council — where Malaysia is vying for a spot.
“We must hold the government to account, If you want to play in the international stage, you must make sure the rule of law applies equally back home in your backyard.
“We will keep the pressure up. We will never relent until we have the abolition of the Sedition Act and rule of law in the country,” he told the lawyers gathered there in their black suits, with some wearing the Bar Council's blue caps made for the walk.
A high-spirited crowd numbering more than 1,000 — mostly lawyers — began their march at 11.40am in a peaceful and orderly manner from the Padang Merbok car park on Jalan Parlimen in the city centre, with the Bar Council’s marshals and police standing by on the pavements to help direct traffic.
They arrived in front of the Parliament building just a few hundred metres down the road at about noon.
Leong estimated that around 1,500 to 2,000 lawyers turned up for the march today.
In just nine months this year, 12 cases have been prosecuted under the Sedition Act ― the highest figure since 2009 ― raising alarm in civil society of Putrajaya’s perceived clampdown on dissent.
Eight cases were brought to trial under the Sedition Act in 2013, while only one case each made it to court in both 2009 and 2011; there was a complete absence of sedition charges during 2010 and 2012.
Today’s march will be just the fourth in the Malaysian Bar’s 67-year history.
Recent marches include the 2007 “Walk for Justice” and the 2011 “Walk for Freedom to Walk” over a judicial appointment scandal and the PAA Bill, respectively; both drew estimated crowds of between 1,000 and 2,000 people.