KUALA LUMPUR, SEPT 15 — It is a windy day, and the Malaysian flag is fully unfurled... displaying her full colours. Nothing feels as majestic as seeing your own country’s flag flying for all to see. One cannot help but feel overwhelmed, especially when viewing this at our very own Dataran Merdeka.
Malaysia is at the cusp of celebrating 51 years of becoming a country. However, despite half a decade of the conception of this extraordinary country, we are still facing some perennial problems which should to have been solved decades ago.
Ours is an independent country, something precious that must be safeguarded and preserved by all means – even, in the words of Macbeth, “until our bones, our flesh be hacked.”
The path to independence was paved with many obstacles. Malaya achieved independence, and subsequently the amalgamation of states to create Malaysia by peaceful means. It’s not a bad thing. There’s no shame in that. The testosterone filled machismo of “wars of independence” leaves only immeasurable sorrow when counting the bodies of the dead.
Some nations don’t even have the right to be independent. Scotland is set to vote on its right to self-determination, after centuries of being in a reluctant union with England. And a “Yes” vote is still uncertain. Catalonia is still unsure if it will even be given the liberty to vote for its independence.
While we can bask in our independence, in a twist of irony, we discover that we are not free. We are blessed with a written Constitution, where our rights are engraved, yet we are less free than the UK where there is no written Constitution and Parliament can legislate even the absurd.
Sadly, we are lower in the freedom barometer than un-independent nations such as Scotland, which does not have archaic laws such as the Sedition Act, threatening her own people.
The irony comes full circle when we are fully cognisant that our ancestors endeavoured to liberate us form the yoke of imperialism only to see her descendants use the sedition laws crafted by the imperialists to subjugate the rest.
Our forefathers struggled for the right to self-determination, to take full control of the reigns of destiny. To chart in the uncertain waters of post-colonialism with whatever resources left by the imperialist, but equipped with the confidence and boldness that the decision is for us to make.
Fighting for independence is not the end. It is only a means to an end, the end being the construction of a place for all Malaysians to belong, with equal opportunities for all and the mission to secure social justice irrespective of identity. As we can see today, while the pioneers of this nation secured independence, their offspring has failed to provide freedom.
The Malaysian citizenry has endured oppression before. Scarier things have happened. 'Ops Lalang', the crushing of the 'Reformasi' protests, the emasculation of the judiciary with the sacking of the Lord President, are prominent stories that should be passed on to generations to come. These are experiences that would harden any citizen.
Yet, most of us quiver at the latest Sedition prosecutions. The chilling effect that the sedition laws have is frightening. The impact of the sedition prosecutions is worse than what we have had to go through before.
You see, 'Ops Lalang' targeted opposition politicians and activists. The judiciary crisis was confined to the judiciary. The crushing of the 'Reformasi' protests primarily affected the Opposition, and it was heavily concentrated in KL. To be a target under the now repealed ISA, one must hold a position of some sort and consistently oppose the government. For those who ended up in Kamunting, they would have at least understood what led them there.
But the sedition prosecutions can affect anyone, and for the flimsiest and vaguest of reasons. Some statement you made on Facebook sometime in 2010 and misconstrued by some right wing fanatic who spread his misguided views to his entire coterie of miscreants could be amplified to alert those in power.
You, or even me could be next.
The vague and broad notion of “seditious tendency” could affect anyone and anything that moves. You can end up in jail because of sedition and hardly understand why you are there.
You end up self-censoring, crossing words, modifying your sentences in order to evade the iron and unmerciful hand of sedition.
And this is where you lose any sense of self.
This is the fear that comes to haunt the Malaysian citizenry that the sword of Damocles is hanging above each and every one of us. We end up being inauthentic in what we say, in order to conform.
But we must not be afraid. We must continue to be loud in voicing our views. We must steady our hearts, steel our nerves and tell the government what we believe is correct.
I believe that the sedition charges proffered on all are wrong. Azmi Sharom, Abdullah Zaik, N. Surendran, the late Karpal Singh and all others charged for sedition should not have been charged in the first place.
These charges should be withdrawn. I believe the Sedition Act (and all laws that impinge on free speech and expression) ought to be repealed. The only sorts of speech that should be criminalised is hate speech, where there is malicious intent and where the ramifications are tangible.
I am confident that Malaysia still has a place in the stage of world history. And the only way for her citizens to seize the world is for the Malaysian government to give us the liberty to do so. We are independent, but now it is time for us to be set free.
We only need to listen to the words of wisdom of Brandeis J of the United States Supreme Court in Whitney v California who was quoted by the respectable Hishamudin JCA in the celebrated case of Muhammad Hilman bin Idham & Ors v Kerajaan Malaysia & Ors in which he wrote:
“Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary… They believe that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensible to the discovery and spread of political truth,… that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of American government.”
This too, should be the fundamental principle of the Malaysian government.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.