Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lawyers for Liberty

Lawyers for Liberty is an organzation in Kuala Lumpur dedicated to the cause of Human Rights and the reform of oppressive laws in Malaysia. Its members are youthful, fearless and unyielding defenders of Human Rights. They have persevered in the face of threats, intimidation and on multiple occassions, arrest. Their founder members include, among others, human rights stalwarts Ms.Latheefa Koya, Ms.Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (who has left her practice to focus on LFL) and Mr.N.Surendran.

While their Facebook page has noted (somewhat wistfully) their offices as being located in “Bangsar or any coffee shops around town”, yesterday they launched a more permanent office at Jalan Gasing in PJ. It was a well attended launch, giving us hope that enough Malaysians care and are outraged by the excesses commited by the current ruling party in Malaysia, the Barisan Nasional.

Among the attendees were Dr.Syed Husin Ali (PKR), Ms. Elizabeth Wong (Selangor State Exco Member), Tuan Haji Sulaiman (who defended Anwar Ibrahim on several occassions), the Bar Council President and his Deputy. Also present were family members of several death in custody and police shooting victims (including the case of Aminul Rashid) that LFL is defending pro bono.

Every oppressed nation needs a ‘Lawyers for Liberty’. And almost every nation in South-East Asia has, to different extents, oppressive governments.

Some Singaporean lawyers (and citizens) may not quite like to consider themselves oppressed, but we believe a full stomach makes a poor replacement for liberty lost. While Singapore’s Law Society is a neutered body that is under the thumb of the ruling PAP, we hope there are some who will believe in freedom and want to remain true to their profession. Which is to stand for Justice, and not a pale mocking shadow of it.
We quote from Mr.Surendran’s speech  “If we do not take effective action, then we too are become betrayers of the people, and cogs in the wheel that crushes the people’s liberties. Let us be brutally honest about this, how hard have we lawyers really tried to change things?”

It was our intention to write a little bit on LFL’s mission and the challenges that they face, but we fear that whatever we write will be a pale second to the remarkable speech given yesterday by one of their founder members, Mr.Surendran.

We therefore reproduce that speech in full. It applys to us all.

“We are gathered here today to dedicate a new entity which is pledged to defend and promote the cause of Liberty and to claim upon the Promises that once were made to us. These were grand promises made 54 years ago, when the Federal Constitution of this country came into being. We were promised that this was a nation of laws and not of men; that our right to life and liberty would be sacrosanct; that we would be free to speak our mind and express our thoughts as we see fit; that we would not be hindered from peaceably assembling; that every one of us was equal before the law.  These then were the basic and indispensable liberties pledged to us – they gave us our Dignity as free human beings.

But soon we discovered that we had been deceived. The document was flawed from the very beginning and never fully reflected the aspirations of the People. The People wanted to be Independent and free, instead they became Independent and tyrannized. For the Constitution was  loaded and hedged with so many qualifications and equivocations, that an illiberal, cynical and dishonest government, took almost immediate advantage of it to silence and suppress the People, for their own selfish and corrupt ends.

Those promised freedoms have been so ‘cribbed, cabined and confined’ as to render them a nullity. What right had they? I do not accept that the Constitution created those freedoms. We were born with those freedoms and the Constitution, but imperfectly, gave expression to them. In giving expression to our innate rights, what business had they to tamper with or qualify them?
The perfidious English went along with it, though they would not have been so cavalier with the cherished freedoms of the people of their own Island nation. Our Rights should have been carved in stone, but  perversely it was written in water.

But all was not lost, there was room for these tamperings to be interpreted away. We put our trust in the interpreters of the Constitution and the laws, the Judges, to give effect to the spirit of the People and the Constitution. These Judges were to have been the impartial arbiters of the People’s rights and freedoms.
And for half a century now, these fearful old men, their souls all shrivelled up and impervious to the dictates of our common humanity, have let the people down – at every opportunity they take the side of the oppressor against the people. In their defence, they ingenuously claim that they merely interpret the laws and do not make them – well then, by what strange coincidence is it that they always interpret it in favour of those who wield power against the common people? Why is that their decisions always erode our liberties and strengthen the hand of the authorities?
Never did you see such a combination of pomposity and timidity as displayed by our Judges – they have been tested by the times they lived in and miserably failed to measure up. They fell beneath the level of events and have betrayed the great trust given to them.
All the ingenuity and passion of freedom-loving lawyers throughout the decades since independence have not moved them a jot. These Judges personate men of flesh and blood, but are more akin to stocks and stones! I cannot understand why they are so determined not to be on the side of Good?

The lawyers are not free from blame either. We must first abandon the notion that we are practising law in the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, in merry England where Liberty is near indestructible and the courts free from interference. The English fought for their liberties long ago and won it, so lawyers stop aping the way the English barrister behaves in his natural habitat.
We must not blind ourselves like the proverbial ostrich to the fact that the system here is hopelessly tainted. Fancy arguments in court alone is not going to restore our liberties to us. Lawyers must stop being in denial! Take the bull by the horns and challenge the system head on. We must confront the judiciary and send a message to them that we will not play the game according to their rules anymore.
March, march again and keep on marching, if necessary. Do not forget Pakistan, where the lawyers led and the people followed. Do not forget Egypt, where freedom has triumphed and the oppressor scuttles away for safety!

If we do not take effective action, then we too are become betrayers of the people, and cogs in the wheel that crushes the people’s liberties. Let us be brutally honest about this, how hard have we lawyers really tried to change things? Its okay to fail, but how hard have we tried? How hard? What do we do? Daily we traipse in and out of the courts as if its business as usual, despite not having the slightest doubt that the System is compromised and the People victimised.
Throughout these years  I have had  many discussions and arguments with lawyers and the Bar Council on taking a bolder approach, and I have come away with a sense that many are so half-hearted about it because they don’t think we can beat them or that things can ever change. By despairing, they have lost the battle before the battle was ever lost.

Now it is true that today the long shadow of the oppressor is everywhere – and in this shadow palely wither away independent institutions which were to have protected the rights of the people, in this shadow they try to hide their transgressions and trespasses and hope to muddle and mislead the people. But try as they may, they can never deprive us of our inborn Dignity – if we will not let them. They cannot make us frightened slaves in our own country, if we will not BE ENSLAVED!
In some ways we are fortunate, for it is not every generation that is given such a great task to carry out – which is nothing less than to sever the bonds that bind down the People and to forge a new free Nation, dedicated to Liberty and the rights of Man. The harder the fight for Liberty, the more abiding and imperishable will those freedoms be, when achieved.

But let us have no illusions about one thing – this unjust Government has no compunction in crushing every spark and ember of a new birth of Freedom under their jack-booted heels. Let us not be fooled by the benign painted faces of the Government and its leaders, for we can see well enough what lurks beneath. Ever are these brooding Watchers, watching for signs of resistance or reawakening among the People. Ever vigilant is their massive and corrupt state apparatus. Ever ready are they to concoct criminal charges and put on show trials to imprison political opponents. Some of the political criminal trials going on in this country would make Stalin proud.

But we can take heart, for of this I am certain: These long years of darkness will yet pass, and a new dawn of Freedom will break upon our Nation. In the meantime we must be relentless in a just cause, resolute in the face of every test and and never cease this honourable struggle until the Oppressor capitulates and every Malaysian regains his birthright – his Liberty.”