Tuesday, November 07, 2006

To Stand Up When It Matters Most

Something Petra sent to me earlier today. I think she did that because it sorts of reflects the person I am. =) Head to the NST website for the original.

05 Nov 2006
Malik Imtiaz Sarwar

I was recently asked what I thought motivated those who steadfastly pursued ideals and worked towards making them a reality, often demonised or put at risk for doing so.

This Aidilfitri I did not go for prayers with my father, to spare him the discomfort of having to confront the hostility I would have been exposed to. There are those who consider me an enemy of Islam, and there are those among them who have been unduly generous with their viewpoints.

This Eid despite my parents saying that it was all right, I stayed away from them so as not to interfere with their celebrations with friends; even as yet another do-gooder acquaintance of my mother advised her about my activities, making clear her unwillingness to consider an alternative view.

My story is not unique. I have heard it in one form or other from those who have tried to stand up and make a difference. In our history, there have always been those who have been called "anti-government", "anti-establishment", "anti-Malaysia",
"anti-Islam", "anti-Constitution" and a host of other names by those whom I suppose should be called "convenient anti-principles".

Through the years, I have been intrigued at how glibly the labels are thrown about as and when convenient, no matter the apparent contradictions. No matter the lack of sensibility.

But the question remains unanswered; why do they struggle, what pushes them? Some suggest the pursuit of fame. I think there are easier and more conventionally acceptable ways of becoming known. Money? I do not think so.

Many a believer in principle I know has forsaken a lucrative career in the belief that if we put our minds and backs to it, one day, this nation will be a place where all of us can be happy and at peace with each other.

What then, I am asked with some frustration. And I wonder why it is that it can only ever be about fame and money. Where do truth, justice, fairness figure in all of this?

Are we delusional for believing that these factors do have some significance? Are things so bleak that there is no reason for hope?

I do not think so because of the fact that there will always be Malaysians to whom truth, justice and fairness come first and who are prepared to act accordingly.

And as long as they do, and show the way to others who can be inspired to act in like way, there will always be a reason to carry on with the struggle.

In 1996, I was fortunate enough to have been part of a process that would ultimately show me that every so often one would meet the one person that mattered most at the time.

Many may remember that in late 1996, a conference called the "Asia Pacific Conference On East Timor II" was held in Kuala Lumpur.

The conference was broken up by a mob of about 200 people who managed to gain access to the private area where the conference was being held and terrorised the participants.

The police got into the picture and arrested more than 30 of the participants, including R. Sivarasa, Tian Chua, Ivy Josiah, Jacqueline Surin and Syed Husin Ali. The legality of the arrests is currently being challenged in court and I will not speak about that.

The 30-plus arrested participants were taken to the Dang Wangi police station.

A group of five lawyers who banded together purely from the spirit of wanting to assist, worked for the release of the detainees who had been remanded for varying periods.

I wish to record my deep admiration for the commitment shown by those lawyers: Sulaiman Abdullah, Datuk Dominic Puthucheary, M. Puravelan and Ragunath Kesavan (now secretary, Bar Council); I was the fifth.

The negotiations with the police were difficult, in part because they were reacting to the various civil society groups and concerned family members that had encamped outside the police station.

We, too, practically lived there. Operasi Lalang was fresh in people's minds and many feared that the arrests would be converted into ISA detentions.

The lawyers were anxious to get the detainees out as soon as possible. As they emerged to cheers, freed one by one and it began to seem that all would be released, the tension began to dissipate.

By the evening of the fifth day, only 10 more remained in detention. After discussions with the police, we were confident that they would be released at the latest by the next morning.

The next morning told a different story. The 10 were taken to the Kuala Lumpur magistrate's court for a further remand hearing.

We discovered this by chance and immediately assembled, presenting ourselves at the court. It was a tense hearing, with the magistrate about 3.30pm ultimately dismissing our objections.

We had anticipated such a possibility and intended to petition the High Court judge for a review that very afternoon, as in our minds, the decision was wrong. We communicated this to the magistrate, asking for her grounds of decision and the notes she had taken.

These were necessary for our review. Despite our insistence, she told us that these would be available for collection in only about a week's time.

We rushed to the High Court as the 10 were being driven off in a police van, sirens blaring.

The sight strengthened our resolve. Getting there, we were ushered into the chambers of Justice Datuk K.C. Vohrah, then a High Court judge (he has since retired).

He took in the sight of the motley bunch in front of him and gently asked us to explain what we wanted. He heard us out patiently, his brow creased with mounting concern.

Then, with all the indignation of justice denied, he directed his registrar to get the magistrate's file immediately.

Turning to us with a look of anguish, recognising that every second more was a further second of incarceration, he told us that he could only allow for a hearing the next morning so as to give the Attorney-General's Chambers a chance to be heard.

As such, he explained, our clients would have to spend a further night in the lock-up.

I was struck with wonder at the way in which the process was unfolding. This was everything I had learnt the law should be; responsive, decisive and compassionate.

That night, the lawyers worked round the clock and by the next morning, presented an argument that would ultimately define and limit the manner in which the police obtained extensions of the remand period. About 5.30 that evening, Justice Vohrah ordered the police to release the 10 immediately.

It was an inspiring moment, and one I will never forget.

More than the fact that justice was served and the truth had prevailed, Vohrah had shown me that to get there, all it took was a firm belief in doing the right thing as conscience dictated.

Since then, I have had the chance of meeting other courageous judges, whom I cannot name since they are still sitting, and other men and women who have stood up and been counted when it mattered.

What other motivation is there a need for?

* The writer is president, National Human Rights Society (Hakam).

No comments:

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...