These past couple of weeks surely must have alerted Malaysians to the rot and desperation of immoral and repressive governments, including our own.
Regionally, the much-feared but already-anticipated official violence against innocent Myanmar citizens has already begun. The Tatmadaw, or the armed forces who now control the country after the recent coup, have begun killing innocent demonstrators.
And it doesn’t look as though the repression and killing will end anytime soon.
Closer to home, two recent events illustrate the rot that has rapidly set in since this backdoor regime’s coup a year ago. Both are related to more assaults on our freedoms – especially freedom of expression – by an incompetent, insolent ‘bodoh sombong’ regime.
The first has to do with former attorney general Tommy Thomas’s book My Story: Justice in the Widerness (2021) and the ongoing official harassment of Pak Chong, the owner of Gerakbudaya, for publishing the book.
Police reports – that favourite pastime of creatures who don’t read but are quick to jump hard on people who wish to know more about different aspects of the world – were quickly lodged after the book’s release.
Threats of legal action have been made, including that by our infamous former PM, now facing trial himself, but so far, none has been instituted.
Thomas himself has not apologised or retracted what he wrote, and many of us are seriously waiting for these purportedly wounded creatures to take him to court to challenge the veracity of his writing.
Instead, the police have confiscated Pak Chong’s work computers, presumably on a whim, as they reportedly never explained to the poor man what this exercise was for.
All this may be quite laughable at the best of times. Unfortunately, for the past year, it has been the worst of times. Thousands are unemployed, many look homeless, businesses have closed down, and the economy is in tatters.
During this period, we have not only seen the removal of the legitimately elected government in March 2020 by this horde, but also a worldwide pandemic, the unnecessary suspension of Parliament, the questionable declaration of a state of emergency and the putting in place of several variations of the movement control order in a seemingly haphazard manner.
So, these are worrying times. And the actions against Pak Chong and Gerakbudaya smack of unnecessary harassment, which has no place in a democracy.
Sadly, this if reflective of an insecure, bullying regime that simply wants to crack down on alternative viewpoints, critiques and dissent and not debate them.
The same could be said of the harassment faced by Malaysia’s independent news portal Malaysiakini. For the past 21 years of its existence, Kini, as it is fondly called, has continually had run-ins with the law.
This culminated in the recent contempt of court case which its editor-in-chief, Steven Gan, and the news portal itself unsuccessfully fought against in the Federal Court, the country’s highest court.
The ‘contempt’ was not contained in anything reported by the portal, but in five readers’ comments in the comment section of a 7 June 2020 Kini report titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1”.
Kini was deemed responsible by six out of the seven sitting judges for the appearance of these comments and their contents which purportedly “contained words offensive towards the judiciary in general and the chief justice in particular”.
Long story short, Gan was found not guilty, but Kini was not so lucky. That was not all. Despite lawyers from both sides asking for a fine ranging from not more than RM30,000 to one not exceeding RM200,000, the court fined Kini a whopping half a million ringgit, more than double what the Attorney General’s Chambers had asked for. All to be paid within less than a week.
It was a decision – and amount – that hit Kini, and many of us on the outside, right in between the eyes.
It was, indeed, the worst of times – for Kini, for the media and, yes, for freedom of expression.
But mere hours later – just four hours actually after Kini launched its online appeal for help from the public, despair turned to joy, hopelessness to resolve, guided surely by a sense that in this David-versus-Goliath battle, David had been hard done by.
It was simply an amazing achievement for Kini, brought about by ordinary Malaysians who came together to help Kini and to show how they felt. It is this spirit, this demand for fair play that needs to be fostered and, indeed, knocked into the head of this regime. Constantly. Repeatedly.
And just as we have shown Kini that we’ve got their back in this worst of times, we must do the same for Pak Chong, Gerakbudaya and all others bravely fighting for our freedoms.
If we can’t fight alongside them, we must provide them and their noble causes with our support. With the Kini case, a small but important battle was won.
But we must – and we will – continue to work towards winning the war.Rom Nain
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
22 February 2021