3:11 pm - Friday November 23, 3083

The blame is on you, Hafidz – Aziema Osmond – Young Professional

Here we go again. Yet another unsubtle argument for the suppression of free speech and expression was put forth in Hafidz Baharom’s article, If a riot does happen, I’ll blame the government (The Malay Mail Online, October 2, 2016). It seems that my beloved nation is destined for eternal repression. How could it not be when every time different parts of our citizenry seek only to peacefully exercise their right to speak and assemble per Article 10(1)(a) and (b) of our Constitution, would be supporters of draconian measures emerge to suppress this at all costs. The country was only just jolted by the call of Datuk Zaid Ibrahim for the return of Tun Dr Mahathir style authoritarian rule, and by penning the abovementioned article, Hafidz seems to follow in his footsteps. For a person purportedly known for writing articles in defence of human rights, this boggles the mind. Wonders indeed never end.

Granted, his message may seem rational enough. This is especially since few would disagree that our government has not done a proper job of governing these days. But be not misled, for in reality, few other opinion pieces published in recent times are as insidiously dangerous to the idea of liberal democracy many of us hold dear. Why, one may ask? Because in his article, what Hafidz has essentially argued for is not only suppressing the exercise of free speech but also for state sponsored repression against those who choose to exercise it.

And while he disguises this as misplaced concern for our national security, he ipso facto justifies state sponsored repressive measures as a legitimate response to those who hold views contrarian to his own. This contemptable stand runs counter to the universal ideals enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and aspired to by all right thinking citizens in this 21 st century. Disagree? Please, as you’ve allowed him to argue his points, allow me to explain.

But first, some contextual background. Before, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or otherwise known as the Soviet Union existed, daily life for those within who disagreed with or otherwise did not subscribe to communism, the national ideology of the state, was anything but bearable. There was no democracy, no freedom of religion, and worse of all, no right to one’s own thoughts as well as their expression.

As vividly expressed by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the omnipresent state was ever watchful over divers own citizens under its rule during its 79 year existence. Controlled by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the state eavesdropped upon all and sundry for signs of dissent and repressed those who dared question its legitimacy to rule. Joseph Stalin’s rule in particular was renowned for the Great Purge, where thousands of CPSU as well as government officials were indiscriminately interned, harshly interrogated, brutally tortured and arbitrarily executed.

It was no wonder then that those who lived under the oppressive rule of the USSR rejoiced when the regime collapsed nearly 25 years ago. For them, the seemingly unending draconian restrictions against free thought, speech and expression they had to endure for many long decades was finally at an end. Peoples of various nationalities living under the Soviet Union’s tyrannical yoke were finally free to think for themselves, many for the first time in their lives.

In Malaysia, we did not escape decades of authoritarian rule beginning in the early 1970s during the time of Tun Hussien Onn but strengthened during the rule of Tun Mahathir in the 1980s, where similar draconian restrictions against free speech were put in place. Who could forget, for example, the suppression of student marches through the use of the University and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) and the rounding up of various activists, journalists and opposition politicians under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) during the infamous Ops Lalang of 1987?

It was only in 2003 when Tun Dr. Mahathir finally relinquished power, was our constitutional and inherent right to freedom of speech given a new lease of life and was further strengthened, thankfully, by the repeal of Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 (Act 344) which required police permits before free assemblies, meetings or processions could be held nor may pass.

The great French philosopher Voltaire is famously known to have defended to the death the right of all to hold and state views that he profoundly disagreed with. But ironically and contrary to his stand as a proud liberal, rather than abide by the teachings of Voltaire, Hafidz Baharom in his above article makes a volte-face, and instead urges the emulation of the ways of Stalin and his time as leader of the Soviet Union.

While doubtless making clear his profound disagreement with Datuk Jamal Yunos’s Red Shirt movement, he unnervingly goes on to assert that Jamal’s right to organise his own protest is undeserving of the same treatment as Maria Chin’s right to organise the next Bersih assembly, Bersih 5. No, no. To allow this somehow makes Jamal a terrorist, of all things. Mere divergence with another’s point of view is condoned and accepted as justification enough for outrageously false (and not to mention highly defamatory) labelling.

Then, without citing any evidence, he throws a tantrum of riot instigations, confrontations and violence allegedly threatened against another individual. Which individual, one wonders. Could it be Maria Chin as well? Last I heard, he tore up her lawyer’s letter of demand against him and threw the shredded pieces into a toilet bowl. While this doesn’t exactly win any awards for prudent social conduct, it is still part of his right to express himself. Rude, probably yes but hardly terrorist behaviour, any reasonable person would agree. To claim otherwise is downright laughable.

But Hafidz has claimed otherwise, and he isn’t laughing. Judging by the tone of his article, he is dead serious that our government must double down on Jamal by repressing the actions of a so-called “racist hooligan” and bring about, in all haste, a complete halt to the activities of his blithely defined “terror movement”. Plainly, his view is that violence against Maria and Bersih 5 ought to be condemned, but insulting and labelling Jamal and his Red Shirts by nefarious terms with no basis in reality, as well as forcibly preventing their assembly must be allowed. No justification is offered by him for the different standards applied.

He also beseeches Umno not to emulate the German National Socialist (Nazi) but become a CPSU clone instead by taking appropriate harsh and draconian action to prevent Jamal’s exercise of his free speech and assembly. Umno President and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and Umno Secretary-General and Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor should both strip Jamal of all his party posts and expel him from Umno at Hafidz’s behest. Better yet, maybe they should take a leaf out of Stalin’s book, and just purge him as was done to Stalin’s own police official, Nikolai Yezhov. For good measure, they should also make him an example by having him and his Red Shirts all thrown into a Soviet style gulag. This would be extremely bad for our human rights and democracy, but never mind. By Hafidz’s logic, those who think differently don’t get to have rights. This coming from a supposed Malaysian liberal. What a sorry state of affairs for our democracy.

Hafidz, you are perfectly entitled to your position that Bersih’s aims are legitimate and are limited to demanding free and fair elections, even if many others do not share this view. What you do not have the privilege of, however, is to demand our government take away Jamal’s right to disagree with and yes, organise a protest against Bersih in deference to his own view. It’s called freedom of speech and assembly, Hafidz, and is present within all thriving democracies. It is also enshrined in our Constitution and this document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which applies to all, regardless if they are aligned with your view or not.

Citing an instance of past standoff where Jamal ripped away the flag of Bersih doesn’t justify your call for repression either, unless you mean for the government to respond by ripping apart Jamal himself in an inquisition style torture chamber. And neither does asking aloud how Jamal can be “left unhindered” to protest age that stopping him is in effect, stopping not only the progress of a democratic agenda, but the progress of democracy itself.

You also say that if a riot happens, you will blame the government and hold all the parties within it responsible. But I already hold you responsible for your call for our government to repress Jamal on account of mere disagreement with his exercise of free speech. Congratulations are in order, for by giving the government ideas on how it should repress and opress, you have made a huge contribution towards the slow ebbing away of our hard won but already precarious state of human rights. If the

You also say that if a riot happens, you will blame the government and hold all the parties within it responsible. But I already hold you responsible for your call for our government to repress Jamal on account of mere disagreement with his exercise of free speech. Congratulations are in order, for by giving the government ideas on how it should repress and opress, you have made a huge contribution towards the slow ebbing away of our hard won but already precarious state of human rights. If the government decides to roll back the significant progress made in this arena especially in recent years, the blame, I’m afraid, is on you.

*Aziema Osmond is a lawyer and a member of Young Professionals (YP), a non-governmental organisation formed for the purpose of defending the supremacy of constitutional ideals in the determination of public affairs.

Filed in: Nasional, Rencana, Topik Pilihan

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  1. The blame is on you, Hafidz – Aziema Osmond – Young Professionals - October 6, 2016

    […] published by the Malay Mail Online and Merdeka-Online on 6 October […]

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