by Kee Thuan Chye
WHAT is this country coming to? Many Malaysians are asking this question in view of the numerous actions taken by the police over the past week.
First, they arrested 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members, including MP for Sungai Siput Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, and are now investigating them for resurrecting Communism and waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. While on their way to a Bersih roadshow in Penang, they were arrested in Kepala Batas and found to have in their possession T-shirts bearing faces of Chin Peng and Rashid Maidin. They have been remanded for seven days.
Communism? That’s crazy talk. The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) is long dead and gone. Chin Peng is a geriatric and Rashid Maidin is dead. The party disbanded in 1989 after signing a peace treaty with the Malaysian Government, and its members were allowed to reside in Malaysia if they chose to do so. After 22 years of its being defunct and virtually forgotten, why is Communism still a threat today?
And if it were – by some stretch of the imagination – are we to believe that this threat is manifest in these 30 PSM members among whom 14 are women, the oldest aged 64?
A friend of mine who was at the court in Penang when the 30 were brought in told me they were just “a motley crew” of people who didn’t look like they would carry a stick to fight, much less wage war against the Agong. “When I saw that, my faith in the system hit rock-bottom,” he said.
“And to see Jeyakumar in handcuffs was too much,” he added. “He alone is worth many of our people in power put together. Top scorer in exams, a doctor, a man who has dedicated his life to helping poor people – he doesn’t deserve this.”
Like my friend, I too knew Jeyakumar while at school. He was one year my junior at the Penang Free School, and I remember him well as a thoughtful, gentle person. He was soft-spoken, cerebral, and humble despite his well-to-do background.
I find it hard to believe that someone like him would wage war against the Agong. Only someone stupid or deranged would consider doing that. He might be a socialist, but that’s a far cry from being a Communist. Don’t the police and the Government know the difference? To all intents and purposes, he is probably someone who transcends labels and merely cares for the poor.
And why remand him and the others for a week? The High Court has since upheld this decision and said it is correct. Justice Zamani A Rahim said the case was serious. “It involves the security of the country, of everyone – you and me and our children.” These 30 people are so dangerous that they are a threat to us and our children?
Case number 2: Sasterawan Negara (National Laureate) A Samad Said was called in by the police and told he was being investigated for sedition because he had read part of a poem at the Bersih launch on June 19.
When has reading a poem been seditious? In any case, did it provoke an uprising afterwards?
Look at the poem. Can it threaten national security?
Semakin lara kita didera bara –
kita laungkan juga pesan merdeka:
Demokrasi sebenderang mentari
sehasrat hajat semurni harga diri.
Lama resah kita – demokrasi luka;
lama duka kita – demokrasi lara.
Demokrasi yang angkuh, kita cemuhi;
suara bebas yang utuh, kita idami!
Dua abad lalu Sam Adams berseru
(di Boston dijirus teh ke laut biru):
Tak diperlu gempita sorak yang gebu,
diperlu hanya unggun api yang syahdu.
Kini menyalalah unggun sakti itu;
kini merebaklah nyala unggun itu.
Even as we are lashed by the sickening fire,
we still shout out the message of Merdeka:
Democracy as brilliant as the sun,
united in purpose as pure as self-worth.
Long have we been restless – democracy is wounded;
Long have we been sad – democracy is ill.
Democracy that is arrogant disgusts us;
We dream of a free voice that is full and strong!
Two centuries ago Sam Adams declared
(in Boston while tea was being poured into the blue sea):
No need for noisy, trivial cheering,
all that’s needed is a serene bonfire.
Light now that magic fire;
illuminate to others the flame of that fire.
Samad Said was prompted to say to the media afterwards that instead of intimidating writers, the action the police had taken against him could spur fellow writers to use the power of literature to state their views openly.
Indeed, it is time for Malaysian writers to come forward and defend what is right. All those who have been conferred the Sasterawan Negara award, like Shahnon Ahmad, Abdullah Hussain, Muhammad Haji Salleh, Noordin Hassan, Anwar Ridhwan and the newly installed Kemala should use their pen to “menyala unggun sakti” and “merebak nyalanya”.
Case number 3: More than a hundred people have been arrested for wearing Bersih T-shirts. Eight of them were among 14 people giving out the national flag at a wet market in Sungai Siput. All 14 were arrested.
But what is the offence? Which part of the law says it is an offence to wear Bersih T-shirts in public?
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has come up with the justification. “If the Bersih T-shirt is related to an illegal activity, then wearing it is illegal,” he said. Is that logical? What “illegal activity”? The Bersih rally hasn’t happened yet. Until the rally is carried out, no illegal activity has been performed yet. So how could he declare it illegal? On that score, why should it be illegal to wear a Bersih T-shirt?
As an analogy, if I were to express an intent to do something illegal, like smoking marijuana openly in public, but I haven’t done it yet, would it make sense for the police to arrest me? If they should do so, the case would be thrown out of court straight away. Doesn’t Hishammuddin, who is a lawyer himself, know that?
Case number 4: The police raided the Bersih secretariat and detained its staff members. According to Bersih, the cops did not produce a search warrant. They confiscated Bersih T-shirts, leaflets and other paraphernalia.
Why raid only the Bersih secretariat? Why not raid those of Perkasa and Umno Youth as well since they will also be holding rallies? And why did the cops not produce a search warrant but instead threaten to break open the gates?
Later that day, the announcement came from the Inspector-General of Police, Ismail Omar, that the police would not only arrest those wearing Bersih T-shirts but also those using any medium to promote the Bersih rally. “Not just T-shirts but shoes, cars, buses. If these are the tools used to encourage people to gather (illegally), this amounts to sedition,” he said.
Shoes too? Sedition? For dressing as one likes? Aren’t Malaysians allowed the freedom to dress as they like? Are there new laws that have come into place without our knowing?
Gopeng MP Lee Boon Chye was arrested for wearing a yellow T-shirt the next day. It did not even have “Bersih” printed on it, it was just a plain yellow collared T-shirt. The police told him he was arrested for illegal assembly as he was with three other people at a wet market. Two of them wore Bersih T-shirts and the third a white shirt. Ipoh OCPD Asst Comm Azisman Alias said, “The shirts are evidence that they are trying to get people to take part in the illegal rally.” Is that all it takes?
What is happening to our beloved country? Is it all turning into a farce? Do we laugh or cry?
My friend in Penang was full of admiration for the 30 PSM members arrested in Kepala Batas. He said when they were marched out to face the music, they were not cowed by it. “I tell you, I never thought I would have lived to see this. Despite the situation they were in, they were shouting, ‘Hidup rakyat! Hidup rakyat!’,” he said. “I’ll never be able to forget that.”
Now the question is, will the rakyat be able to survive the power of the police? And also that of the State?
First published in Malaysiandigest.com