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Aliran's 25th Anniversary Dinner Celebration

Aliran Will Go On

No one can stop Truth from marching on


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rama
Rama: "We have provided a voice of reason, compassion and justice....Today, we can hold our heads high"
Mr Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me, first, thank all Aliran members and friends who have sweated hard to make this function a reality. Seeing all of you here this evening, especially those who have come from outside Penang to be with us, I can already say this function is a success.

For this, we are very grateful. We are grateful to the many generous donors and supporters who have kept faith with us and continue to be a source of inspiration in our long and arduous journey towards ‘Freedom and Justice’.

We are grateful to our famous friends from the Instant Café Theatre Company for performing gratis.

Dear Friends and Members of Aliran, you represent the best in our society, citizens who are truly concerned with the larger issues that affect us as a nation. You represent the conscience of this country. It is people like you who nourish our spirit and strengthen our resolve to continue the good fight.

25 Years is a Long Time

In historical time, 25 years pass like a mere twinkle of the eye. For a nation, 25 years form a relatively short period.

But, Friends, 25 years is a long time in the life of a society that is dedicated to ‘Freedom, Justice and Solidarity’.

For 25 years, Aliran has stood its ground in a hostile environment. Aliran has spoken up fearlessly on numerous issues whether those be corruption in public and high places, abuses of power, threats to democracy, or the need to advance the causes of women, the disadvantaged, the under-privileged, the homeless, the helpless, or the evicted.

On these and other matters of public interest we have taken strong and principled positions that deserve the support of all fair-minded Malaysians.

But carrying out our tasks responsibly and consistently has not been easy. There have been many challenging moments and trying times.

Let me just recall a few of those moments in our history.

Aliran Targeted for Destruction

In 1980 we were just 3 years old. Already someone wanted to target Aliran for destruction. Why? We hadn’t committed any crime. We didn’t incite any riot. We weren’t conspiring against anyone.

The reason was simple. We had made the fatal mistake of displeasing those in power when we criticised the new allowances for top civil servants.

You and I and many other people in this country wouldn’t think that such a statement could be misconstrued as a threat to national security.

Yet the Registrar of Societies demanded that we show cause why Aliran shouldn’t be deregistered. Evidently the Registrar was confused enough to believe that Aliran’s statement showed that Aliran was being used in a manner ‘prejudicial to, or incompatible with, peace in the Federation’.

Dear Friends, you and I would never believe that a society that had 55 peaceful and peace-loving members could threaten peace in this country.

But we knew then, as we know now, that those in power could always find a reason to shut you up or put you in. That is how the politics of fear works in this system.

When Aliran survived the Registrar’s attempt to put us out of business, many Barisan Nasional politicians concocted lie after lie to discredit us.

Lies Concocted to Discredit Aliran

The then Deputy Prime Minister, now about to retire as Prime Minister, darkly hinted about our "international connections."

Next, then Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Sanusi Junid made insinuations about Aliran’s “hidden political motives”.

Later others accused us of disregarding the Rukunegara, of being anti-monarchy, of being anti-Bumiputra, of being frustrated politicians.

The mass media had its turn at discrediting us. Shaik Osman Majid, wrote a feature article, ‘’Whither Aliran’’ in the Sunday Mail of December 28, 1980. The article was only good for serious misrepresentations, distortions, and lies about Aliran.

And, of course, surprise, surprise, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the Malayan Communist Party had expressed support for Aliran in its dispute with the Registrar of Socities.

National Language: Heavy Price to Pay

There were other ways of hampering us, too, of preventing us from reaching out to the public. As many of us will remember, Aliran had planned to publish a fortnightly magazine in the National Language and had applied for a permit since 1982.

Each time Aliran’s application was rejected without just cause or reason.

So Aliran took the government to court. The High Court on 2 September, 1987 quashed the Home Minister’s decision to refuse a permit to Aliran.

In fact, Justice Harun Hashim declared that an application for a permit to publish a newspaper should be granted as a matter of course.”

But the Government never takes defeats in its suppression of the freedom of expression in good grace.

In retaliation, the government amended the Printing Presses and Publications Act to remove ministerial decisions from judicial review. With that, when the government appealed to the Supreme Court, our case was lost even before it was heard.

Sadly, our small victory in defence of the right to free speech was overturned by the Supreme Court.

And then we were hit by the AG’s Chambers demand of RM80,000 as a Bill of Taxation.

It seemed that if they could not stop Aliran legally, they would try the financial way.

To cut a long story short, suffice it to state that eventually Aliran had to pay RM20,000 towards costs.

Dear Friends, RM20,000 then or now, is a huge burden for an organisation working on a shoe-string budget. But with the generous support of our members and friends, we survived.

Aliran Survived Operation Lalang

We more than survived other attempts to do us in. In October 1987, several newspapers were shut down. The others were heavily controlled. The Aliran Monthly was sorely needed as a source of information and a rallying point against the mass ISA arrests and repression.

But our poor printer did not have his licence renewed! We moved from printer to printer trying to bring out the Aliran Monthly to tell our fellow citizens and the world what was happening in Malaysia. Only after a long search and endless effort did we find one brave soul who would print the Aliran Monthly.

It would be nice to tell you our problems were now solved, and that we could continue happily doing what we do best: providing much-needed information to a news-starved public, giving expression to stifled voices, and criticizing the government’s oppresive actions.

Running Out of Printers

Certainly the Aliran Monthly has the best documented record of that period. But the next 18 issues of the Aliran Monthly were printed by three different printers.

After that, dear Friends, we simply ran out of printers in Penang. For the next five years, the Aliran Monthly was printed in Kuala Lumpur.

Worse was to come. In a period of less than 2 years, between February 1999 and September 2000, the Aliran Monthly was printed by no less than 8 printers.

Why? Any of our past and present printers will tell you that Aliran is a good paymaster. (By the way, that is partly because we don’t pay the dedicated writers and contributors who make every issue of the Aliran Monthly possible!)

Yet each of those printers lasted only 2 to 3 issues before sorrowfully telling us they couldn’t accept our business any more.

No one, however, can stop Truth from marching on! Aliran and the Aliran Monthly remained in the forefront of a wider and growing movement for Democracy, Freedom, Justice, Human Rights and Civil Liberties in this country.

We Were There

When Operation Lalang struck, we were there with the victims of repression. When Reformasi came, we were there in the company of those who sought social and political change. When the government in desperation arrested the Reformasi and Keadilan leaders and other alleged militants in 2001, we were there to oppose the dastardly use of the ISA.

For 25 years we have been here. We have provided a voice of reason, compassion, and justice. We have served as a beacon for interethnic understanding, interreligious respect and multicultural appreciation.

We have organized talks, marched with other justice-seeking people and groups in this society.

In short, we have carried out the duties that were implicit in our motto: Freedom, Justice, Solidarity.

Because we have done all that and done so with commitment, sincerity and honesty, my dear Friends of Aliran, before you, I can say this much: Today, we can hold our heads high.

Either Gone or Going

Those who share our struggle for Freedom, Justice, Solidarity, have not believed the lies that were spread about us. They are still with us.

Those in our society who turned to us to express their grievances have not turned their backs on us. They still need our help.

The victims of injustice and their families have not lost their respect for us. Their causes are still our causes.

But, those who maliciously accused us, those who wished us ill, and those who actively harassed us — they are gone, or else they are going.

You and I together can be proud, very proud to say ‘Aliran will go on’. Aliran must go on.

Thank you.

Speech by P. Ramakrishnan, President, on May 24 2003.

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