Malaysians have been living a ‘culture and life of silence’ under the Barisan Nasional regime.
The Court of Appeal’s ruling declaring Section 15(5) of Universities and University Colleges Act as ‘unconstitutional and a violation of the freedom of expression’ has far reaching implications, according to an opposition leader in Sarawak.
A practicing lawyer, Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian likened the unexpected ruling as “akin to a bird that is suddenly released from its cage and now able to sing in the forests with the freedom it should always have had from the very beginning.”
“The (elected) government is supposed to nurture and care for the people as very well expressed under the principle of what we call the ‘fiduciary duty’ of the government .
“But the last 50 years under the BN regime has been a culture and life of silence.
“So much so that we dare not speak the truth about anything in society for fear of reprisal from the government,” said Bian who is also Ba’Kelalan assemblyman.
Students have long campaigned for a repeal of the 1971 UUCA which bars them from joining political parties and trade unions. They said the the ban violates human rights and free speech.
Yesterday the Court of Appeal ruled that the law contravened constitutionally protected freedom of expression.
Freedom of speech
Section 15(5) of UUCA clearly states that no university students and no organization, body or group of students of universities which are established by, under or in accordance with the Constitution, shall express or do anything which may reasonably be construed as expressing support for or sympathy with the opposition to:
- Any political party whether in or outside Malaysia,
- Any unlawful organisation, body or group of persons, whether in or outside Malaysia or,
- Any organisation, body or group of persons specified by the Minister under paragraphs (1)(c) and (2) (c) to be unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or the University.’
A corresponding clause in Article 10(1) of the Federal Constitution further states that:
- Every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
- Every citizen has the right to assemble peacefully and without arms;
- Every citizen has the right to form associations.’
According to Bian, the BN government had systematically ‘stiffled and suppresed” Malaysians fundamental rights.
“The BN government has succeeded in stifling and suppressing the basic and fundamental rights enshrined under our Federal Constitution right from the age where a person begins to shape his views about life, where he learns more about democracy, rights and good governance at the university and colleges, the centre of intellectual discourse and learning.
“This whole culture and system of BN policy (this stifling of the right of expression) has for the past decades reduced us to a ‘dumb or mute society’ devoid of a conscience to express ourselves and speak out, in particular against injustice, discrimination, corruption, oppression etc.
“For example, the Tuai Rumahs or Ketua Masyrakat in the longhouses, civil servants, religious bodies and then ordinary citizens do not dare to speak out against anything that is plain and obviously not right in our society, especially when it relates to the acts of the government of the day and those representing the government like the prime ministers, chief ministers and cabinet members.
“The consequence of this is that our enforcement agencies like Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Police, AG Chambers, Inland Revenue Department and others have become ineffective.
“At the end of the day, we the ordinary people will suffer as a result of this suppressive policy.”
No action despite AG’s revelations
“Finally we see this in the Auditor-General Report where millions and millions of ringgit in public funds have been wasted, yet no action taken by these enforcement agencies.
“I still remember in the last AG’s report about Sarawak where it stated that there was a leakage of about 60% of all government projects in Sarawak.
“To this day I have not heard of anyone being investigated and prosecuted.
“I can predict the same will happen after this hype and hoo-ha about the AG’s report: No action, case settled,” Bian said.
He said the only perceivable solution was to “change of government.”
“The only solution is to change the government and the coming general election will give each and every one of us the opportunity to restore that right of expression for the generations after us,” he said.