BY KHOO YING HOOI
Last week, the Shah Alam High Court upheld the government’s decision to ban Bersih 4 t-shirts and related printed materials. The decision comes after Bersih 4 organisers filed a judicial review against the government’s ban on the yellow Bersih 4 t-shirts.
In his judgment, Judge Datuk Mohd Yazid Mustafa said that the order by Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was valid, as the minister had the discretion to make such decisions on the basis of preserving the peace in a multi-racial country like Malaysia.
I quote, “The minister has taken the relevant consideration in making the said order. I take judicial notice that Malaysia is multi-racial and multi-religious, thus puts a heavy responsibility to the minister to maintain and preserve peace, notwithstanding the Federal Constitution confers rights of assembly (and) freedom of expression.
“However, the national interest needs to be jealously guarded. Indeed, the prime consideration to safeguard the public order, security and peaceful, are at the hands of the executive.”
This decision is disappointing for one reason – how could we possibly reach the stage where wearing a t-shirt with the label of Bersih 4 is considered illegal with the potential to cause public disorder?
Are Malaysians that shallow to think Bersih 4 could actually cause public disorder?
What is the logic and rationale in justifying the ban?
Previously, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali and PKR’s Batu MP Tian Chua were among those under investigation for wearing the Bersih 4 t-shirt during the rally last August.
Now, anyone who owns a Bersih 4 t-shirt or has anything to do with the rally is potentially liable under Section 8 of the Printing Press and Publications Act (PPPA).
The government has on various occasions remained defensive in protecting its human rights record with the excuse that Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-religious country.
Above all, Bersih 4 has nothing to do with any racial sentiments. The movement is aimed at reforming the country’s electoral system and to improve its democratic development. It has never championed any particular race in its demands since its formation.
Supposedly, this decision could possibly generate fear among those who own Bersih 4 paraphernalia. On the contrary, I observe more resistance from the people to the court’s decision.
What is printed on a T-shirt that could be so provocative to preserving the peace in the country?
The decision is a major blow to freedom of expression. While it could be true that Malaysians are becoming more partisan as a result of the country’s political developments in recent years, another trend that we should not dismiss is that the political awareness among citizens has also increased.
The government needs to start taking peoples’ concerns and criticisms seriously. Malaysians may not hold the same opinions, but shallow justifications like this only make us a laughing stock at all levels. – February 22, 2016.