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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Long March for Justice

The Malaysia Bar Council organised a March for Justice for Wednesday, 26 September from the Palace of Justice to the Prime Minister Department in Putrajaya to petition the Prime Minister for a thorough Investigation of the VK Lingkam tape regarding the fixing of judges and to halt (and reverse?) the rot in the Malaysian Judiciary, the third and very important pillar of democracy. This is the video that triggered the March:

The video showed a person which looked remarkably like a senior lawyer, VK Lingam apparently talking to a judge whom many say is the current Chief Justice, Tan Sri Ahmad Fairuz from the context of the conversation. The person in the video which is said to be taken in 2002 mentioned fixing of judges appointments, award of title. The "coincidences" of the appointments of the judges mentioned plus the fact that Tan Sri Ahmad Fairuz never directly denied he was the judge on the other end of the line, but after days of silence, sent a fax "no comments" to the Bar Council and chose to deny it via his "Minister", (apparently neither of them understand the meaning of separation of power and check and balance) and the rich businessman, Vincent Tan mentioned in the post also did not make any denial, cause one to think that the conversation was genuine. Sometimes, action (or non-action) can speak louder than words.

They chartered 7 buses to take Bar members and I found out from an email from Haris Ibrahim on the night before the planned March that the public can join. I immediately decided I will join the march to lend my support. I started from my house at 7am, took the LRT to Masjid Jamek and walked to Dataran Merdeka. I was the first there. We started off at just after 10am.

There is the first obstacle, a road block preventing the buses from entering Putrajaya:

March for Justice by Malaysia Bar Council, road block

The leaders negotiated with the police and they allowed us to march (on foot) to Putrajaya, so a short 300 meter march became a long 5 km. plus 300m March for Justice. I don't know if the authorities who ordered the buses to be stopped caused the marchers inconveniences for hardship, but I thank them for this excuse for much needed exercise plus the vital Vitamin D from the sunshine.

Here is a photo of the marchers getting their caps, badges, banners, fans and message "Free the Judiciary" printed on A4 paper to get ready for the unplanned 5 km Long March for Justice:

getting ready for the unplanned 5 km March for Justic

Here are photos of the banner bearers leading the unplanned Long March for Justice and the procession from head to tail:

banner bearers leading the Long March for Justice

I only had on a long sleeve white white plus black pants, but the Bar members (lawyers) had on their heavy black coat. It took us an estimated 1 hour to reach the Palace of Justice where the rest of the marchers were waiting. We received a thunderous round of applause from those who drove in their own cars and their passengers when we arrived at at about 11.30am.

Here is a photo of the 2,000 plus strong marchers in front of the Palace of Justice with the majority of Bar members (in black coats) and supporters in front of the Palace of Justice:

participants of the March of Justice at the stairs leading the Palace of Justice

The Chairman of the Bar Council Ambiga Sreenevasan started off with a speech: "Lawyers don't walk everyday. Not even every month. But when they walk, then something must be very wrong," said Chairman of the Bar Council Ambiga Sreenevasan when addressing a strong crowd of more than 2,000 members of the Malaysian Bar and some concerned citizens at the Palace of Justice before the commencement of the walk to the Prime Minister's office to hand over the Bar's memorandum urging the government to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to probe the state of judiciary and memorandum on the establishment of a judicial appointments and promotion commission."

After the speech, the march started off at about 11.45am. Here is a photo of the beginning of the March of Justice to the Prime Minister Department:

start of the March of Justice from the Palace of Justice to the Prime Minister Department

There were chants of "Who are we?" and "What do we want?" led by Amer with a loud hailer and these were answered with roars of "Malaysia Bar" and "Justice". The funny one was "We are doing this for the sake of the country" answered with shouts of "correct, correct, correct", mimicking VK Lingam frequent use of the repetitive response in the now infamous VK Lingam video.

There were FRU (Federal Reserve Unit) trucks along the way and here is a photo of some of them with one taking a video of us while I took a photo of them:

FRU (Federal Reserve Unit) trucks

There were also plenty of policemen. We were not intimated.

Finally a row of helmeted FRU (Federal Reserve Unit) policemen at the beginning of the staircase to the Prime Minister Department blocked our way to the building when we arrived at about 12.30pm, and we stopped there.

Photo by Haris Ibrahim, Human Rights lawyer

Bar Concil office bearers, Ambiga, Vice-President Raguanth Kesavan, Secretary Lim Chee Wee and Treasurer George Varughese then proceeded on to the Prime Minister's office to hand over two memoranda to the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary. The first memorandum called for a royal commission of inquiry to be set up to examine the claims made in the video clip, as well as the state of the judiciary while the second memorandum urged the establishment of a judicial appointments commission for the appointment and promotion of judges.

The rest stay behind chanting away in support of the four-man delegation. Here are some banners to declare what the Bar Council are demanding for:

Clean up the Judiciaryno to corruptionstop the patronage, stop the rot
Clean up the JudiciaryNo to corruptionStop the patronage, stop the rot

A short while after, the sky started pouring. But even the heavy rain did not dampened the spirit. This is a day the Malaysians should be proud of the Malaysian Bar and their members who marched under the hot sun and endured the searing heat of the blazing sun in their black suits plus pouring rain.

When the office bearers returned, the Chairman of the Bar Council, Ambiga Sreenevasan started off with another speech saying the government have started an investigation and should be supported as a first step, but I shouted "I don't agree. They are only investigating the authencity of the tape". Anyway, after the end of the speech, we dispersed and I want to the waiting buses which surprisingly were allowed in to the nearby car park. At least the authorities have some heart.

We were dropped off at Dataran Merdeka, and a kind 70 year-old man from Sabah kindly shared an umbrella with me and we and Tan Ban Cheng, a Penang lawyer who came all the way to Kuala Lumpur to join the march, went to the corner coffee shop in front of the Malaysia Bar Council and Medan Pasar for a drink. We had a nice long chat about various matters.

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