I’m just wondering what the hell is going on? On 11 October 2010, four KL Legal Aid lawyers and chambering pupils were arrested during law awareness week for distributing the Bar Council’s Red Book “The Police and Your Basic Rights” and there was hardly any protest. What’s more, it is the same leaflet that was launched by Minister Nazri Aziz. How more “safer” can it get?

All the Bar Council can muster was we are “at a loss to understand the basis for the police’s action”. Where are the 100 lawyers that are ready to rise up and protect the Bar Council and its affiliates? Surely those who “signed up” cannot just mean that they will defend via e-mails, endorsements and sitting at the court gallery? Are you really saying there are no lawyers willing to take up the case – to campaign and challenge the unconstitutional arrest and detention, and defend the Red Book?

This is perhaps far from surprising as the Bar Council has more often than not failed to seize the opportunity to act radically and decisively to really push for genuine constitutional and human rights reform.

Just look at the flip-flopping over the last few years.

In September 2007, the Bar Council acted bravely (and out of character) in organising the historic lawyers “Walk for Justice” in Putrajaya over the VK Lingam scandal and then only to falter some months later when it cancelled the Human Rights Day walk from SOGO to Central Market just because the police wanted a permit; and sought to explain that since a police permit was inconsistent with the Constitution, it would not be applying for the permit and proceeded to cancel the walk!

Then came the high profile arrest of the five KL Legal Aid lawyers at the Brickfield Police Station when they went to act for their clients in May 2009. The Bar was understandably outraged and an EGM was called. The atmosphere was electrifying and the lawyers present were angry and ready to walk again. But the Bar Council failed to seize the momentum and only came out with some resolutions (that admittedly were quite strong).

So, are we really surprised that Legal Aid lawyers and pupils were arrested and detained again?  Or are we surprised to hear that dock brief pupils from time to time have been prevented from seeing their clients or that remand proceedings are now being held at the Bukit Jalil Remand Centre instead of the courts?

Surely the issue cannot be that the lawyers and pupils were “only detained for a few hours” as I was made to understand. The real issue is that constitutional and human rights have been violated and that this incident is not the case of a few bad apples but rather a wider and serious problem of the PDRM’s contempt for the Constitution and human rights and the role played by lawyers.

How does that reflect on the Bar Council and its various committees when nothing is offered to these lawyers and pupils other than a press statement? What message is being sent to them and other volunteers?

Surely you don’t expect the new IGP and the Home Minister to suddenly respect and protect our constitutional and human rights without any real protest and struggle? If you do not know by now, the struggle for human rights is not fun and games; or involves fiddling with your Facebook or tweets, and certainly far from raising funds for charitable homes or producing cute items. Rosmah or any UMNO leaders’ wives can certainly do a better job.

Is that what human rights work in the Bar has been reduced to (not all of course)?

Eric Paulsen is a member of Lawyers for Liberty

This article was first published at Malaysia Today.