There’s good news and there’s bad news — Azmi Sharom

Source: The Star Online

BY AZMI SHAROM

Dr. Azmi Sharom is a law teacher.

First came a surprise ban, but it was followed by an inspiring, heartwarming Court of Appeal decision.

THE banning of the book Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation – Islam in a Constitutional Democracy came as a surprise to me.

I wasn’t surprised that it was banned. The Government has banned around 2,000 books since 1960. It’s not exactly a bestseller.

Full disclosure here folks: I have a chapter in this book. I can hardly remember what I wrote, but it was about fundamental liberties in the Federal Constitution.

Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that the book is a collection of measured and scholarly articles, with a foreword by former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, not some rabble-rousing diatribe. And yet it was deemed to be prejudicial to national security.

No explanation was given how this is so. Read more

Malaysia Before Malaysia Lecture #6: Federal Constitution – Colonial Legacy or National Pride?

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To many Malaysians, the Federal Constitution is deemed as the heart of our nationhood. It holds the promises of our aspirations, hopes and dreams to be attained by preserving ideals as encapsulated by the highest law of the land.

However, this promise has faced much obstacles and for some, its spirit has withered over time – especially with the changing landscape of the people’s liberties, institutions and justice.

Due to this, there have been many concerns severely contested by numerous scholars, activists and communities regarding the perceived values interpreted from the Federal Constitution, when provisions regarding religion, race and fundamental liberties are brought into a controversial light once again in the courts of justice.

Much of it boils down to questioning the origins of the Federal Constitution, its makers and its attempt to move forward from the long episode of colonialism. Has it contributed to the current dilemmas we face today? Will a better understanding of our Federal Constitution ignite a greater appreciation that will revitalize the necessary attitudes to address these very same dilemmas?

In this lecture, Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz, founding president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) will be scrutinizing the history behind the making of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution and the surrounding debate around the extent of its ability to serve as the bedrock of the nation.

Details of event are as follow:
Date: Saturday, 12th November 2016
Time: 10.45am – 1.00pm
Venue: MCCHR Pusat Rakyat LB, Jalan Pantai Baharu (A-3-8 Pantai Business Park), 59200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Admission is free and open to all. Donations are encouraged. Directions to the venue are available at mcchr.org/space.

This lecture is part of the Malaysia Before Malaysia series, brought to you by Imagined Malaysia and MCCHR.

For more lectures like this, follow us on social media:
facebook.com/imaginedmalaysia
facebook.com/pusatrakyatlb

What can we do? — Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

Source: The Malay Mail Online

BY TUNKU ZAIN AL-‘ABIDIN

AUGUST 5 — Readers of apparently all ages and backgrounds concerned about ongoings in the country have been asking me: What can we do?

This question stems from concern and pessimism about the future of the country, compounded by a fear that they will get in trouble for speaking their mind about certain issues. It is indeed sad that so many people feel this way in a country that was explicitly founded on democratic principles.

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The first sitting of Parliament of the Federation of Malaya on Sept 15, 1959 at the old Parliament House which is now the Malaysian Tourism Centre in Jalan Ampang. — Picture from National Archives

On Instagram (@tz.n9) I have shared the speech that the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong delivered in the Dewan Ra’ayat (as it was then spelled, sitting in a hall that is today the Malaysian Tourism Centre on Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur) in its first session on Sept 12, 1959.

In his historic royal address, His Majesty said that the Federal Constitution is “a democratic achievement of the highest order. It is the product of many minds working with a common aim, to evolve a basic charter for this new Malayan nation of ours — a charter drawn from our past experience and suited to the conditions of our surroundings and way of life — a charter of our firm faith in the concepts and traditions of parliamentary democracy — and finally, and most important of all, a charter of our common belief that certain fundamental liberties are essential to the dignity and self-respect of man.”

Speaking to all citizens, Tuanku Abdul Rahman stressed that the Constitution “belongs to all of us” — to the Agong, to the Members of Parliament, and “to the people as the fount of power.” Read more

Free speech a ‘privilege’? Read the Constitution properly, rights advocates tell minister

Source: The Malay Mail Online

Social activist Maria Chin Abdullah of electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0 went a step further and told the federal minister to resign if he was unable to comprehend the tenets of the country’s supreme law. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

Social activist Maria Chin Abdullah of electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0 went a step further and told the federal minister to resign if he was unable to comprehend the tenets of the country’s supreme law. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak should learn how to read the law properly in order not to mislead less-informed Malaysians of their constitutional guarantees, rights advocates said after the communications and multimedia minister asserted free speech to be a “privilege”.

Social activist Maria Chin Abdullah of electoral reform watchdog Bersih 2.0 went a step further and told the federal minister to resign if he was unable to comprehend the tenets of the country’s supreme law.

“If he as a minister can’t understand the Constitution, then he should resign. He is a lawmaker,” Chin told Malay Mail Online.

She was responding to Salleh’s blog post yesterday in which the Sabah leader said Malaysians were treating the expression of their opinions as an “absolute right” rather than a “privilege“ that can sometimes be withdrawn if abused. Read more

The language of liberty – Netusha Naidu

Source: The Malaysian Insider

BY NETUSHA NAIDU

Last week, a few Malaysians and I came to the United States of America for a five-week programme under the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. We will be academic fellows on religious pluralism at Temple University’s interfaith initiative known as the Dialogue Institute based in its Department of Religion.

Students from Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines as well have been brought together to learn about American history, values and cultures to have an idea of how religious pluralism is not necessarily an impossible challenge in our own countries. What makes this appropriate is that the United States has a long history of diversity.

In fact, Philadelphia is home to the first proponent of religious pluralism in the US. Its founder, William Penn belonged to an unorthodox Christian sect called the Quakers that was deemed radical during the late 1600s. Read more

Freedom under the constitution – Gerard Lourdesamy

Source: The Malaysian Insider

BY GERARD LOURDESAMY

I am constrained to respond to the comments made by the Chief Justice of the Federal Court at the recent ceremonial opening of the legal year, which certainly merits debate and contemplation.

As the head of the judiciary, he rightly touched on matters pertaining to the Constitution, rule of law, human rights and the administration of justice in this country.

The fundamental freedoms provision in Part II of the Federal Constitution does not have its origins in any particular religious texts or from our Malay or Malayan norms and values pre-1957.

They have their origins in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789, the US Constitution of 1787, the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, the English Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Magna Carta of 1215.

The Rukun Negara is not a constitutional document, and neither does it have the force of law, because it is devoid of any statutory basis.

It is merely a national ideology that was constructed by the government in response to the race riots of 1969.

The Rukun Negara does not take primacy over the Constitution and neither should it be a point of reference when it comes to the interpretation of the Constitution. Read more

CJ says can’t judge Malaysian court decisions by ‘Western’ rights standards

Source: The Malay Mail Online

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Citing the Human Rights Commission Act 1999, Arifin pointed out that human rights in Malaysia is defined as fundamental liberties that are enshrined in Part 2 of the Federal Constitution. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 — Critics should not measure local court decisions using “Western” human rights standards that may not always match Malaysian values, Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said today.

Arifin noted that civil society has criticised some court decisions as “violating individual freedoms and curtailing freedom of speech and association”, but insisted that Western values and human rights norms cannot be the “ultimate yardstick” in Malaysia.

“In making these criticism, the standards applied by way of comparison are those of mature, Western orientated democracies.

“With respect, the application of Western norms which are not always in accordance with the values and culture of Malaysian society do not allow for a direct comparison of standards emanating from the West,” he said in his speech at the ceremonial opening of Malaysia’s Legal Year 2016.

Citing the Human Rights Commission Act 1999, Arifin pointed out that human rights in Malaysia is defined as fundamental liberties that are enshrined in Part 2 of the Federal Constitution.

He also said the Malaysian value system is found in the Rukun Negara, specifically the pledge by Malaysians to abide by the core values of “Belief in God, Loyalty to King and Country, Upholding the Constitution, Rule of Law and Good Behavior and Morality”.

“Therefore, the standards for measuring our adherence to human rights ought to be measured against these benchmarks,” he said. Read more

Bar: Court rulings suggest Putrajaya’s interests top Malaysians’ rights

Source: The Malay Mail Online

M. Indira Gandhi is pictured at the Court of Appeal, Putrajaya, December 30, 2015. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

M. Indira Gandhi is pictured at the Court of Appeal, Putrajaya, December 30, 2015. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 — Rulings in key constitutional cases last year gave the impression that the government’s interests trump the rights of Malaysians to fundamental liberties, Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said today.

Steven noted the courts appeared to give wide interpretations to restrictions on Malaysians’ fundamental freedoms in these cases, leading to criticism that the judiciary has abandoned their duty.

“The apparent reluctance of the court to invalidate legislation or state enactments on constitutional grounds is worrying, and has given rise to the public perception that the interest of the state prevails over the constitutional rights of citizens.

“The willingness on the part of the courts to cede their jurisdiction has been decried as an abdication of responsibility,” he said in his speech at the ceremonial opening of Malaysia’s Legal Year 2016. Read more

Human rights not hindrance to society, ex-judge says

Source: The Malaysian Insider

Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof says a country should be matured enough to respect minority rights. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, December 19, 2015.

Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof says a country should be matured enough to respect minority rights. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, December 19, 2015.

Malaysia needs greater maturity in its view of human rights, which should not be seen as a hindrance to society, retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof said today.

Human rights should not be seen as an impediment, he added, when speaking at a forum on “Whither the Federal Constitution – Do fundamental and minority rights matter?” organised by the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur.

“The country should be matured enough to respect minority rights, fundamental rights and human rights. We had a good run on human rights, why do we want to shoot ourselves in the foot.

“When someone throws a balloon you should laugh it off and not prosecute the person. We need to be mature,” he added, referring to charging of dancer Bilqis Hijjas who had dropped yellow balloons bearing the words “democracy”, “free media” and “justice” at an event in a mall in August with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak attended with his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor in attendance. Read more

Malaysia’s approach to Islam dangerous, says Azmi Sharom

Source: The Malaysian Insider

Law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom speaks during the ‘Islam in a Constitutional Democracy’ forum in Kuala Lumpur. He believes the way religion is dealt with in the country threatens human rights. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, December 5, 2015.

The way religion is dealt with in the country today presents a clear danger that the protection awarded to the people under the Federal Constitution has become illusionary, says Dr Azmi Sharom.

It was particularly scary for Muslims, especially after a recent Federal Court decision which held as constitutional a provision in the Selangor criminal religious enactment that restricted freedom of expression, the law lecturer said at the “Islam in a Constitutional Democracy” forum in Kuala Lumpur.

Azmi was referring to the case of ZI Publications and its director Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid, who filed the petition in 2013 to challenge Section 16 of the Shariah Criminal Enactment 1995.

Ezra was charged in 2013 with an offence under the section for his involvement in the publication of “Allah, Love and Liberty” written by Irshad Manji.

“It is particularly scary for Muslims, the Federal Court decision in the Ezra case seems to give carte blanche to state legislatures to make whatever law they want under the guise of Islam, even if it completely takes away our rights protected by the constitution. Read more