By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
May is up and gone. To some it is just another month in the calendar but to many peace-loving Malaysians, May is a month of shame. It was also in May, 43 years ago that the infamous racial riots of May 13 took place. May too has several other significant events among them VE (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8, 1945. It was on May 8, 1968 that I took my solemn oath, on the drill square of the Royal Military College, Sg Besi, to serve King and Country and did so for 30 long years. While others consider May as a fleeting passage of time that merits little or no acknowledgement, to a band of brothers and sisters from Ipoh, it was a moment of truth and sad reflection.
What had befallen now renowned BERSIH chairperson Ambiga Sreenevesan can happen to anyone, given the eminence that surrounds this gutsy lady lawyer. From merely clamouring for a free and fair election, as provided for in the Constitution, Ambiga has evolved into someone the ruling government coalition loves to loathe. It could be this seemingly “inglorious” significance that prompted “paid goons” of the Establishment to make her a marked person. How circumstances could descend to such depths is beyond me. Violence through show of disrespect using lewd language and gestures is becoming a norm. Could this be a new culture that will inhabit our social landscape or is it just a passing fad?
In Merlimau, Malacca on Saturday, May 12 a hi-tea event which Ambiga was supposed to appear was derailed by thugs who threw stones and eggs. The incident damaged several cars and the event was called off. Preceding the Merlimau incident was a series of bizarre protests outside of Ambiga’s house in Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur which included a “butt exercise” by a group of unknowns who claimed to be army veterans. On Thursday, May 10, a band of traders set up stalls and served free beef burgers in front of Ambiga’s house. It was a deliberate act since Ambiga is a Hindu and a vegetarian.
The developments in the capital city have not gone unnoticed elsewhere. In Ipoh, a group of concerned citizens, representing 51 non-governmental organisations, denounced the despicable acts as disgusting and an affront to Ambiga’s dignity as a Malaysian. At a press conference on Thursday, May 24, lawyer Augustine Anthony, the chairperson of BERSIH 3.0 Perak made the group’s stand known.
Alluding to Article 5 of the Constitution, which states that “No person shall be deprived of his/her personal liberties save in accordance with the law”, he said that the “perpetrators have stooped so low as to have no qualms in belittling Ambiga’s religious sensitivities.” Echoing Augustine’s sentiments, Dr Sharifah Jaafar, President of Perak Women for Women Society, decried the attacks as being “politically motivated”. “No citizens of the country should be subjected to such incessant tormenting just for speaking up for the rights of the people,” she insisted. Abdul Rahman, President of Perak Consumers’ Association (CAP), condemned the actions of the petty traders and promised that “members of CAP would stop buying burgers forthwith.”
No sooner had the dust settled, when the authorities went after protesters who breached the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011. Opposition leaders, Anwar Ibrahim, Mohamad Azmin and Badrul Hisham are now being charged for contravening the Act. Their case will be mentioned in court on July 2.
Malaysians cannot grasp the significance of the rule of law. We have been cowed into submission by too many repressive laws. Over in the United States, Americans are subject not only to their state constitution but also their federal constitution.
By “due process” the U.S. Department of State refers to the constitutional protection afforded the accused person under the Fifth Amendment of the federal constitution. It is basically a human rights issue which is universal. Sadly, this is alien here. State-sponsored bullying and intimidation will, therefore, continue unabated.