Courage inspires hope, for Sarawak

It is the best time of the year again, Christmas.

Agnes M Pharo, a relatively unknown lady who was said to be an artist and a writer in her life time, famously penned this brilliant top ten Christmas quote: Christmas is tenderness for the past, courage for the present and hope for the future.

Tenderness for the past because there are as much reminiscences of joy and passion of the yesteryears as there are the visitation of the Ghosts of the Christmas Past. A time to examine and explore our traditions from the past for a new lease on life during this time and after.

Have we shown courage for the present and what hope for the future?

To endure and weather the political and economic turbulence which afflicted all the institutions of government administration, the people have to muster more than all their courage to keep going.

But I have seen courage for the present: My friends Chong, Jambai, Ajah, Jamilah and many others. They soldier on despite the adversities.

The academia and law lecturer Azmi Sharom has been inspiring this year.

I was in the Federal Court at Putra Jaya for argument on the constituency delimitation when the apex court delivered its decision against Dr Azmi Sharom’s challenge on the constitutionality of the Sedition Act.

In his quest to stimulate a brave new world of thinking Malaysians, the handsome and dynamic law lecturer gave his analytical comments on the Selangor constitutional crisis to a newsprint, citing the laws and their interpretation by the Malaysian highest courts. That was probably the 100th piece of academic and intellectual opinionof the young professor lecturing in Universiti Malaya.

Unfortunately, it was stormy days and as one young writer rightly pointed out, a time when “everyone and their grandmother were being arrested and charged” under the archaic colonial legislature, the undisputed champion draconic Malaysian law. Of course, the government is trying to outdo their predecessors and will soon unleash the legal regime of the National Security Council Act. Everyone and their grandmother and young child better be cautioned.

Azmi was the first academician to be charged for sedition in Malaysia. As a law lecturer giving his opinion on the law and charged for sedition, he could be the first ever in the world, amongst countries claiming to practice democracy.

As a true academician and a juristic scholar, confronted with the problem that the law is not what it ought to be, he boldly raised and challenged theconstitutionality of the Sedition Act. The Sessions Court agreed with his cause, the High Court too, and the matter was referred to the highest court for deliberation.

In front of a hundred law students and Azmi’s peers, the 5 Federal Court judges delivered their decision that the Sedition Act is legal and constitutional. While another Federal Court panel had earlier ruled that any restriction on the constitutional rights of our citizens to freedom of speech and expression must satisfy the tests of reasonableness and proportionality, this panel chose to depart from its predecessors.

A million-ringgit question had immediately come to the minds of many: “How can Azmi teach his students the law after this?”

He was not to be defeated. He was quickly back in the campus and continues his vocation. No doubt, his students had gone through a most valuable class in jurisprudence, the principles of constitutional law and the rule of law.

Last month, he was in our state capital giving a talk on the legal institutions and the need for reform. The courageous law lecturer was completely his vibrant self.

I caught up with him and asked him that million-ringgit question. He replied: “I must admit that immediately after the unfavourable federal court decision, I felt rather despondent and wondered how can I teach law in the current atmosphere. But then I came to realise that it is even more important to continue. Not just to teach the law as it is, for it is in shambles, but to also teach what the law should be. It is not an option to fall into despair, instead it is imperative to fix what is broken.”

The academia did not fall into despair either. Azmi was back to the Sessions Court to face his charge under the draconian law earlier this week. At the public gallery, 20 university professors and lecturers were seen and 10 of them were in their academic robes! “We are doing this to uphold academic freedom,”said the spokesperson.

”The current trial of Prof Azmi Sharom is a serious attack on academic freedom and also a gross violation of the 1997 Unesco Recommendation,”another professor said, “besides freedom of conscience, expression, association and movement, Article 26 of Unesco Recommendation also confers on academicians the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinions of state policies”.

The courage for the present has slowly but surely make progress and nurture our hope for the future.

When my Sabahan colleague Dr Roland Chia suggested that I look into the constitutionality of the Territorial Sea Act 2012 and how the provisions may affect Sarawak and Sabah, I dug into the books and reports to attempt an exhaustive study into the legal issue.

I was encouraged by some senior lawyers who shared with me their legal resources and opinions to draft the motion to question the constitutionality of the parliamentary legislature with the aim to safeguard the integrity of our territorial boundary of Sarawak.

I must also thank my fellow members of the state legislative assembly, from both side of the floor, for their reassuring and heartening words of support. A few did expressed concern and cautioned on the plausible intents of the NSC bill which was rushed into parliament without prior notice.

Thankfully, our learned Speaker who is proficient with the practice and procedures emphatically asserted that the NSC Bill was not directed at Sarawak and included my motion to be debated in the House, rather than letting it be questioned outside.

The courage of the Sarawak State Assembly in this important issue is augmented with the Chief Minister assuring the House that the matter regarding the Territorial Sea Act, the Continental Shelf Act, the Petroleum Development Act

and the constitutional provisions with regards our territorial boundary will be looked into and be raised with the federal government.

It is courage for the present, nothing less, for all elected representatives to put the interests and rights of Sarawak above all else. Whatever that comes, I am certain that we are getting closer to what all Sarawakians are hoping for.

Indeed, this just concluded state assembly sitting has set the tone for a meaningful Christmas: tenderness for the past, courage for the present and hope for the future.

And I must conclude this by paraphrasing the second part of Agnes M Pharo’s quote: It is my fervent wish for my fellow Sarawakians that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path we take may lead to an autonomous and significant Fair Land Sarawak.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

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