The ban-demic is back – or was it never gone?

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Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

The Rakyat are not fools. They rose to change the government in 2018; now they must once again become aware of what is at stake. Carol Yong writes.

We are living in difficult times. The ‘ban-demic’ virus erodes Democracy, violates Human Rights and suppresses Freedom!

The ban-demic did not come overnight, but rather it has been a terrifying presence that loomed over the heads of many ordinary people for a long, long time. It has been used to suppress the people’s rights, first by the British colonial government and then by the Malaysian government.

Invariably, bans are enforced by the government-of-the-day that fear the power of the people.

As we all know, the one and only government that existed from independence (for Malaya) on 31 August 1957 to the 9 May 2018 general election was the one led by the Alliance, broadened to Barisan Nasional from 1973.

Over the past six decades of BN rule, almost all the targets of the ban-demic swoop were progressive individuals and movements (eg activists, peasants, workers, youths, students, academics, indigenous, women’s and human rights advocates), as well as lawyers, media and people-oriented politicians fighting for justice, human rights and freedom. 
Those were not the only ones: targets included ordinary folk, especially the poor,  accused of being anti-development, anti-government, communists or pro-communists.

They were arbitrarily perceived as threats to the power and supremacy of the BN government dominated by Umno and their associated allies, mostly for their own self-interests.

To cite an example: throughout the 1970s, students and lecturers who became aware of the injustices and oppression were involved in defending the rights of the people, especially the poor – the landless peasants, rubber tappers, peneroka bandar (urban pioneers), who themselves also rose to protest against their unjust situation.

READ MORE:  Aliran launches 'Save our Democracy' online petition

Many of the student leaders and lecturers, including some members of political parties such as Parti Rakyat Malaysia (the Malaysian People’s Party or PRM) and ordinary people, were arrested and detained.

The government reacted by restricting the freedom of the academic community by amending the Universities and University Colleges Act 1961, making it more stringent and repressive.

For over 60 years of BN-Umno rule, we have seen different forms of bans, such as the suppression of freedom of expression, association and information access; the arrest and detention of innocent people; and the ban or suspension of books, newspapers, magazines and audiovisual material.

After the 2018 general election, when BN-Umno was toppled from power and Pakatan Harapan took over the government, the Rakyat had so much hope that the ban-demic would be a disease of the past.

It was not to be. The PH government had the opportunity to restore Democracy, basic Human Rights and Freedoms upheld by the Constitution, but it didn’t, its promises sidelined.

Then the BN-Umno returned to power, in cahoots with a group of politicians who abandoned the PH coalition, through a backdoor takeover in March 2020.

And so, there are continuing events now that are bringing back the ban-demic fever. What is the reason? What’s going on in society? I can only suggest it is the return of the kleptocrats!

There are people who have things to hide, and these people are back in power. They need tools to continue hiding these things from the Rakyat, and the tools, among others, are the clampdown on freedom of the arts, dissent, expression and other basic liberties.

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We see action against book and progressive media, its editors and journalists being hauled up, and dozens of innocent people and people’s elected representatives being called up by the police for questioning. A number of activists have been charged or face charges. The number of investigations is rising.

The erosion of freedom and basic human rights does not appear to be happening on a case-by-case basis. Rather, it appears to be done in a coherent and systematic manner, in a failed system of governance.

The government thinkd we the Rakyat are all fools! The Rakyat rose to assert People Power and changed the government in 2018. The Rakyat of all races and religions need to continue to become aware of the tools of the ban-demic, and especially the Rakyat need to protect our fundamental freedoms and rights.

On 30 June, Aliran launched a “Save our Democracy” petition, which couldn’t be more timely. Click the link below to find the petition and please sign.

Carol Yong is an activist and independent writer

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