It was a year since Malaysia saw one of the biggest rallies held last Merdeka’s eve. Instead of gearing up to celebrate the country’s independence day, the nation was on the streets then.
Merdeka is a celebration of independence and freedom from the grasp of colonisers. Judging from what the country has experienced in this one year, many are asking if Malaysia is truly independent.
Amnesty International Malaysia’s executive director Shamini Darshini says there is still a lot of work left to do before the country can arrive as truly independent.
“This year, it is a bit emotional for me. We all love the country, we so see also much potential in it, a potential in all aspects, but we have yet to achieve this understanding of what it means to be really independent.
“The fact that we still do not see the Malaysians are not able to enjoy fundamental human rights granted to them tells that we have not arrived as an independent country.
“We still do not see freedom of political rights, religious beliefs and peaceful assemblies. This reflects the challenges that we still face until we can call ourselves truly independent,” says Shamini.
She wishes for the country to achieve the right to life.
“My wish is that the death penalty to be abolished in Malaysia,” she says.
G25’s spokesperson, Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, looks forward to a more positive nation that continues to improve national unity.
“We hope to see less politicising of race and religion by politicians just to score points, and I hope to see the Merdeka Day as a time of renewal for all Malaysians, who would continue to promote peace and racial harmony.
“Whatever happens to the country, it affects us personally. That is why it is important for us to share the worry and concerns each Malaysian has,” she adds.
Noor Farida also hopes that there will be less racial and religious polarising.
“It seems to be worsening and splitting our country apart. We have to try to do something to improve things and work towards a better Malaysia,” she says.
Meanwhile, activist Yap Swee Seng of Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia says the country is still quite far from achieving real independence.
Yap’s wish is for racial discrimination to be eliminated.
“The law needs to be changed and so does the mindset of the public; otherwise we still have a long way to go.
“We still do not have actual institutions to address these issues, we do not have an equality commission that looks into such issues,” says Yap.
He adds that Merdeka Day is a day supposedly meant for one to celebrate freedom from control and repression from colonisers.
“To me there is nothing to celebrate. We supposedly got our independence from the British, but we are still not free in terms of political rights and repression.
“We are still seeing so many of our friends, non-government organisation leaders, activists and Opposition leaders being charged for simply fighting for their rights.
“What Merdeka are we celebrating?” he asks.
Co-founder of Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, echoes a similar sentiment.
“There’s really little to celebrate this Merdeka. Despite so many years of political independence, we have not truly achieved Merdeka in the real sense — a country that is truly ourselves, comfortable in our race and religious relations, not having to tip toe or else risk police reports and having things blown out of proportion.
“We can be proud Malaysians rather than seeing everything through the prism of race and religion,” says Paulsen.
Soo Wern Jun