The 29th and 30th of August saw Malaysians all over the world and in Kuala Lumpur gather together in yellow shirts, voicing from the bottom of their hearts, the five demands – clean elections, clean government, strengthen parliamentary democracy, right to dissent, save the economy, in view of what was seen as blatant abuse of the executive branch including when the Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, then heading the special investigative team towards 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was inexplicably removed.
The fourth edition of the Bersih rally may have been over, leaving some 200,000 Malaysians in the city and some 18,000 others overseas with good memories and expressing solidarity, demonstrating against the dire states of their country riled with corruption, lack of leadership and a shrinking economy, but the struggle remains ongoing as there appears to be blowbacks to the mega rally.
Aside from having a counter protest deemed the “red shirt rally”, organized by another group which claims that doing so will regain the Malay identity and ownership in the country from a “Chinese-dominated” Bersih. Although there was a report that there was a directive by ruling party Umno to attend the rally, it was denied as an ultimatum as Najib said the party does not endorse the rally, several leaders of Bersih have also been charged in court for their involvement in other rallies, including Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah, while others like Bilqis Hijjas have been charged in court for menial actions such as letting off balloons containing words like ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ in front of the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his wife.
Even then, on the international stage, the situation does not bode well for Malaysia whether it be in name or in reputation. As more authorities in different countries began to initiate investigations into the 1Malaysia Development Berhad – from the Swiss, to the United Kingdom, to the FBI, to Abu Dhabi, whistleblowers like former Umno man Khairuddin Abu Hassan was arrested for going to these respective countries and urged that the accounts and allegations of corruption be looked into. Following that, he was further detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) until further action. This was decried by lawyers as unnecessary and the vague terms in the act meant the legislation is vulnerable to abuse.
In other developments, book publisher Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid’s attempt to strike out a provision within Selangor’s criminal religious enactment which restricts freedom of expression was dismissed by the Federal Court as they deemed that the religious enactment (which differs from state to state) are made by state assemblies to check on any violations to the precepts of Islam. Mohd Ezra previously came under fire for translating Irshad Manji’s book “Allah, Liberty and Love” from English to Malay, and he’s going to stand trial. It’s a worrying development as this demonstrates that civil courts cannot decide on matters involving Islam and religion, and religious departments are immune to scrutiny, according to former law minister Zaid Ibrahim (who is also Ezra’s father).
Meanwhile, Malaysians may have participated in solidarity movements all over the world, but the buck does not stop at just attending solidarity movements, as several events by Global Bersih are heating up in Europe, with Maria Chin Abdullah appearing in two forums organized in London and Geneva respectively, as well as a forum co-organized by Global Bersih and the Paris Bar Council to meet with Steven Thiru, Malaysian Bar president, to exchange ideas and debate about the situation in Malaysia’s current socio-political landscape.
Also, a story project called “Stories from the Malaysian Diaspora” is also initiated to document stories and tales from Malaysians living overseas and their contributions to the cause. This is done with the intention of keeping Malaysians connected even though they are abroad. All one has to do to share this story is to e-mail Kevin Bathman (firstname.lastname@example.org) with:
- A photo of yourself
- Name of your hometown and adopted new city/country
- 50-word story about your life
- Your message to Malaysia.
Once that is done, these stories will be shared on the website and Facebook page.
Global Bersih has also continued to engage with their city coordinators overseas to keep in touch of what’s happening on the ground, to gauge their concerns about Malaysia and of their rights even as they reside overseas, trying to provide help through legal advise or addressing their situations. It has also released a strong-worded statement decrying the efforts by the Foreign Ministry to track down those who attended the rally. Moving forward, Global Bersih will continue to highlight concerns regarding the overseas voting mechanism and human rights situation in Malaysia.