Friday, 10 March 2017

Participating in the “Oppose Act 355 amendments” rally to show the determination in “Opposing state Islamisation”

Participating in the
"Oppose Act 355 Amendments" rally
to show the determination in
"Opposing State Islamisation"
- A feature article on "RUU355 counter-rally" (Picture Story)

At about 10am of 18 February 2017, eight Sahabat Rakyat Working Committee members drove from Johor Bahru to Selangor, to participate in the “Oppose Act 355 Amendments” rally organised by a group of social activists known as BEBAS at Taman Jaya Park, Petaling Jaya from 3pm to around 5.30pm. On 13 February, BEBAS sent a petition to all Members of Parliament (MP), requested them to vote “No” to the Act 355 Amendments to be tabled by the President of PAS Party Hadi Awang in the Parliament. We are of the view that, although BEBAS is a group newly emerged from the struggle, although some people may not fully agree with its arguments in the abovementioned petition, the righteous action of this group stated above is hard to come by, is commendable, is valuable and should be supported. Therefore, Sahabat Rakyat Working Committee decided to carry our banners to the spot, to join the crowd in expressing the aspiration and determination of “Opposing Act 355 Amendments” and “Opposing state Islamisation”.
[1] We arrived at the venue of the rally circa 2.45pm. Upon arrival, we put up the banners in Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages with slogan read “Tolak Usul Pindaan RUU355! Tolak Pengislaman Malaysia!” and two printed posters with the contents “Vote “No” to Hadi Awang's Bill on the Act 355 Amendments”. These banners fully reflected the aspiration of the people of different ethnic communities especially non-Muslims in our country and were warmly welcomed by the crowd and attracted cameras from the media.
[2] Before the rally began, the organiser used microphone to encourage participants who did not bring along any banner or placard to pick one or more placards prepared by the organiser or to write their own slogan on the blank manila cards using the marker pens provided by the organiser to express their thoughts or aspirations towards this issue. We could feel the valuable spirit that the rally organiser demonstrated where they respect the rights of expression of everyone and respect the freedom of expressing differing views. Such liberal-minded approach is a good exemplary for those so-called democratic parties and organisations which is ruled by the voice of one man only.
[3] The rally commenced at 3pm as per planned. The organiser invited 9 speakers to deliver speeches where 6 of them are Malays while 3 are Chinese. The attendees of the rally were mainly Chinese and Indians, hence, speakers mostly spoke in English. The first speaker is lawyer Nik Elin Nik Rashid. She criticised that Act 355 amendments violates Article 8 of Federal Constitution which guarantees there should not be any discrimination based on religion. She urged Muslims to choose justice, choose humanity, as it will not make them a lesser Muslim.
[4] Azrul Mohd Khalib, the second speaker is one of the main person in charge of BEBAS. He said this law affects vulnerable people the most. This law will also affect everyone, there is no guarantee that this law will not affect non-Muslims ever. He urged everyone to make a clear stand that “I am tax payer, I am Malaysian, I have the rights to oppose unjust laws”. He called upon the voters of all constituencies to find out the email and service center of their MP, tell their MP that they want him/her to vote “No” to Hadi’s bill. He encouraged the voters to remind their MP that if he/she wants their vote, he/she will have to vote “No” to Hadi’s bill on Act355 amendments.
[5] The organiser had also invited Gerakan Youth deputy chief Andy Yong (left) and a young lawyer Vince Tan (right) to deliver their speech.
[6] Lawyer Haris Ibrahim, a social activist was also one of the speakers. He pointed out that our forefather fought to give us a country, a nation that is all equal till Mahathir tried to Islamise our civil laws when he became Prime Minister. In 2001, Mahathir even announced that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Mahathir strengthened the racial and religion oppression resulting the corruption of the country to worsen, and himself escaping from bearing the responsibility. Non-Muslims just kept quiet.
We cannot remain silent, our voices must be heard. We should stop the deterioration of the above situation where the country is wrecked and people are ruined.
From his point of view, the short term solution is to go to your Muslim opposition MPs particularly from PKR, go in numbers to their bilik gerakan, bring the media along and ask them to pledge openly that they will vote down Hadi’s bill. If they are not prepared to pledge, tell them not to even bother to contest GE14. The long-term solution is to bring down UMNO BN regime, people take ownership of the country.
[7] The former Minister of Prime Minister’s Department Zaid Ibrahim who just announced joining DAP also spoke on the rally. He said that Act 355 amendments is not a religion issue but a political issue. It is PAS last modal to secure its rule in Kelantan, this is politic. He would like to remind the Malay Muslim MP, if they are truly Muslim, they must fight for what is just. He urged the voters to reject their MP who supports this bill.
Although Zaid said he attended this rally and delivered his speech in his own capacity, we hope that he will play a key role in DAP and even within Pakatan Harapan.
[8] Another speaker who is also one of the main person-in-charge in BEBAS is Azira Aziz. She described her own experience when she and 3 others filed an injunction to prevent federal lawmakers from debating Hadi’s private member’s Bill to remove the legal barriers preventing PAS from enforcing the Islamic penal code in Kelantan. As a Malay-Muslim and a contractual government servant at that time, Azira and her family were terribly pressured. They even received death and rape threats. But she did not back down due to this, instead she is now more resolutely believing that people of all ethnic groups should be treated equally. She announced that BEBAS has received feedback from members of Parliament from Sarawak that they will unanimously vote against "Act 355 Amendments".
[9] Lawyer Siti Kassim who went popular on the internet after showing her middle-finger in a forum on PAS' Syariah Bill jointly organized by PAS and Jakim was also one of the speakers. She firstly praised the courage of all participants. As she pointed that participating in rally is a democratic rights endowed by the Federal Constitution and further said “If you are Malaysians, you must say something and get involved.” She pointed out that only “Islamo-fascists” will impose their own ideology and proposition on others. Currently, what these religious people doing are unconstitutional and not following the law. We should not allow more of this “Islamisation” (which is not true Islam) to continue to happen. She encouraged people of all ethnic groups, especially non-Muslims to stand up against the “Act 355 Amendments” because this country belongs to everyone. She further emphasized that only “secular state” will respect every body’s rights, including Hadi Awang’s rights.
[10] Last speaker of the day is Boo Su-Lyn, who is also a member of BEBAS. In her speech, she emphasized that Malaysia is a secular state, so as declared by our forefathers, Tunku Abdul Rahman. It signifies that religion is not a component of the government (political system); it also means that all the people in this country (including Muslims and non-Muslims) have the freedom of practicing their own beliefs, but not to impose own beliefs on others; it also means that the government cannot direct the people how to practise their religion.
She described that our country is being tyrannized in the name of religion. She further mentioned that those politicians are peddling religion (referring to Islam) for political intentions, whereby they act like they are high above the people and they threaten those who disagree with them. She's in the view that people of all ethnic groups must oppose Hadi’s Bill resolutely, as it will worsen the inequality situation in our country. It will also embolden those in power to discriminate against Muslims and non-Muslims who do not follow the status quo. It will also enable to government to retain Malay privileges and carry on the oppression of non-Muslims.
Lastly, she shouted out to all Members of Parliament: “You either vote “Yes” or “No” to Hadi’s Bill. And if you vote “Yes” or abstain from voting, you don’t deserve to be our representative!”
[11] Sahabat Rakyat Committee members Ngo Jian Yee, Cheng Lee Whee and supporter Cheah Yin Hong also distributed the following documents to participants of the rally:
1)    “Oppose State Islamization is the Central Task of Democratic Reform in Our Country at Present” by Choo Shinn Chei (member of Presidium of Sahabat Rakyat) that was first published on 12 Sept 2016 on Sahabat Rakyat’s blog;
2)    Work Report of Sahabat Rakyat (2011-2016) published in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of Sahabat Rakyat entitled “Deepening 4 points of political understandings Through the practice over the past 5 years”; and
3)    Sahabat Rakyat 15th Anniversary Souvenir issue.
The picture above shows that some participants (last row) were reading the documents attentively.
[12] Although the number of people at the rally was far behind those at Padang Merbok, the presence of a large number of reporters proved that this small-scaled rally had indeed aroused the attention of the media. As the saying goes “a single spark can start a prairie fire”, we have reasons to believe that with the deepening development of our political situation, the struggle to oppose “Act 355 Amendments” as well as to oppose state Islamisation will surely develop.
Some persons in charge of non-governmental organisations and religious groups were seen at the rally too. Those we spotted including the President of The Federation of Hokkien Associations of Malaysia Khoo Chai Kaa and some of its committee members as well as Secretary of The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) Dr. Hermen Shastri (it was unknown whether he attended the rally in his personal capacity or as a representative of his organisation).
[13] Different placards with various slogans were seen at the rally, showing the voice and anxiety of people of all ethnic groups. A young man were seen holding a bilingual placard (Malay and English) reading “Secular State, Free People” (which could be interpreted as “secular state safeguards the freedom of the people”), while another Malay lady was seen sitting on the staircase and holding a placard stating “Say ‘No’ to Religious Tyranny”.
[14] Towards the end of the rally, the organizer distributed canes (rotan) to the participants and invited them to gather at the amphitheater. Participants then folded the canes to express the resentment of the people against “religious tyranny” and to express the determination to oppose “Act 355 Amendments”.
[15] The rally ended around 5:30pm. Members of BEBAS, speaker Vince Tan and his friend and us had a view-exchange session at a restaurant nearby. On the left (from the front): Choo Shinn Chei, Ang Pei Shan, Boo Su-Lyn, Chen Xin, Cheng Lee Whee, Cheah Yin Hong and See Siew Min. On the right (from the front): Ngo Jian Yee, Nyam Kee Han, Yong Siew Lee, Azrul Mohd Khalib, Vince Tan and his friend (name unknown). Azira Aziz also joined the session but she left earlier as she had other pre-scheduled appointment.
During the session, Azrul expressed that although they (who organized the rally) received numerous criticisms, threats and even their own friends suggested them to give up the idea of holding this rally or at least reschedule it to avoid being held on the same day as the rally in support of “Act 355 Amendments” organised by PAS; although they knew that the PAS rally would definitely outnumber them, they insisted to organize the rally on the same day hoping that different voices and not only voices in support of “Act 355 Amendments” would be heard. Their courage is much valuable and laudable!


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