KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 5 – While the National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC) of the Bar Council has embarked on a year-long movement to get the Sedition Act repealed, some have questioned whether such a campaign is effective. The NYLC last night launched its ‘Mansuh Akta Hasutan’ (Eradicate the Sedition Act) campaign, with its immediate initiatives including an online hashtag campaign to get Malaysians to sign their support for the act to be a thing of Malaysia’s past. In the launch event and public forum held at the Straits Trading Building here, several had taken the opportunity to question the panel whether such a campaign could eventually work. Those who made up the panel included NYLC chairman Syahredzan Johan, former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan, Global Movement of Moderates chief executive officer Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and current Bar Council president Christopher Leong.
National Indian Rights Action Team (Niat) chairperson Thasleem Mohd Ibrahim, who was among the audience at the forum, asked the four if there was a way to speed up the campaign and be a catalyst now instead of waiting a year. Leong said the campaign should see an incremental response rather than one “big bang” and the plan presented yesterday, he added, was an excellent start with a lot of young people having taken to it. When asked by another member of the audience on whether the government would be willing to listen, Saifuddin said, “I believe he (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak) listens but what’s more important is for him to know this campaign is going on. “I want to take the approach in good faith that he wants to do it and the public should communicate that to him,” Saifuddin added, referring to Najib wanting to repeal the Sedition Act.
The Bar was also asked if they had a target amount of signatories and a backup plan in the event the campaign was a failure. To this, Syahredzan said they did not want to bind the campaign to a number and make it a failure just because it didn’t achieve its target. On the possible failure of the campaign, Syahredzan boldly said they had not thought that far ahead, but if that arose, a new strategy would be an answer. When speaking to others present on whether the campaign could exert the pressure needed to repeal the act, Lawyers for Liberty’s Adrian Lim Chee En said, “I think it works in a way, but not that effectively. “Former Bar president Ambiga herself knows how effective Bersih was. “I mean we are not asking everyone to go to the streets to create chaos, but a simple walk by the Bar would carry a lot of weight,” said Lim.
At the forum, there were several calls for the Bar Council to take to the streets and march for the cause to give it a louder voice as they have had a reputation for making huge impacts that way in the past. “Christopher Leong himself has said it. In the history of the Bar, they walked three times. “So if the Bar would really want to do something significant, organise a walk, walk with the civil society, get the politicians who are interested to get involved, regardless if they are Barisan or Pakatan,” Lim told. Amnesty International executive director to Malaysia Shamini Darshni said the campaign looked strategic, having both on ground and online activities that targeted different audiences. “That is what’s important with the campaign because you are getting the rakyat’s voice.
“To me, if it’s ten people, or a hundred, or a thousand people who want it, the fact remains there’s something really wrong with the Sedition Act and how it’s being used recently,” she shared. She also agreed with NYLC’s strategy to work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and political parties, which she said showed that so many wanted the act abolished. Ranjit Singh, 45, who is a tour guide from Cheras shared that the campaign was something that should have been done earlier. “Firstly we have to educate the people so we need the campaign very badly. “Many Malaysians don’t even know what sedition is all about. “I have a strong feeling that it will be a successful campaign because of the way Twitter and Facebook are gaining traction, so much so that I think even the government can’t cope with it,” he said. The panel also jointly called for a moratorium on sedition charges while awaiting the government’s final decision on its repeal.