AS of late, Malaysia has been frequently embroiled in political turmoil. From the never-ending 1MDB scandal to the people’s compromised freedom of expression, the nation feels simply chaotic.
Laws, like Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, have been used to put government critics in jail. Some face up to two years behind bars, while others must pay RM50,000 in fines, all for a Facebook post or a tweet. Down also went whistleblowers like The Malaysian Insider and The Sarawak Report which aimed to provide an alternative perspective, often even classified information.
But there are those who are fighting to resists these changes, like Fahmi Reza, who continues to face consequences for voicing out as a citizen of the country. Refusing to plead guilty in the Sessions Court, young activist Fahmi made international headlines with his outright rejection of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak through his artwork.
Which kinda brings us to our main point today: Malaysia’s social activists are intelligent, outspoken people who choose dialogue over force in rectifying the problems facing our country. It’s this sort of bold spirit that reminds us all that power should be with the rakyat, not a select few.
But don’t let these outspoken guys do everything without your help, because at some point you’ll need to up your responsible citizen game too; because if you never learn to speak up for yourself, one day you’ll run out of those who can speak on your behalf.
Here are three well-known agents of change from recent memory and a bit of information on them.
Jerome Kugan, multi-disciplinary artist
Born and bred in Sabah, Jerome Kugan is many things. Some of them include being an established writer, poet, musician and of course, activist.
Jerome is co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka, a human rights festival held annually in Kuala Lumpur until its ban in 2011, as well as co-author of Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology, a book seized in 2010 by the Home Ministry. He also released his debut album Songs for a Shadow in 2008 and you can also listen to his music on his Soundcloud page.
His activism often revolves around sexuality and gender expression too; championing LGBT rights, Jerome tries to push for acceptance in Kuala Lumpur by uniting people. Community party Rainbow Rojak is one of his many initiatives.
But if you’ve bumped into him recently, make sure to ask for his homemade pickles and chutneys — they’re quite amazing.
Khalid Ismath, outspoken student
We all post or have friends who rant about the state of the nation from time to time. Like a retired uncle who has recently discovered Facebook or your budding college student, Khalid too enjoys going online to share his opinion.
A second year law student at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Khalid went from citizen to criminal overnight. He faced 14 charges — 3 under the Sedition Act and 11 under the Communications and Multimedia Act — for his social media postings that were critical towards Johor’s controversial royal family in late 2015
He was detained in solitary confinement without bail even before his trial, and has been vocal of the way Malaysian police has ill-treated him. Amnesty International declared him as a ‘prisoner of conscience’ and called on the public to press for the release of the student blogger.
Khalid sparked the Free Khalid demonstrations (you must have seen the emblem spray-painted around parts of KL) not only for his release from detention but to re-evaluate our nation’s judiciary system and rights to freedom of speech.
Maria Chin Abdullah, mother of three
Imagine an individual who leads a gathering of 50,000 (according to the police) to 500,000 (according to rally organisers) people all dressed in yellow, occupying most of Kuala Lumpur for two consecutive days to face off with the Prime Minister and his officials. With the world watching and officials out for blood, how would you imagine this charismatic leader?
Turning 60 this year, The Straits Times has compared Maria to important figures like Ambiga Sreenevasan after her ascent as Bersih chief in 2013.
Maria has been described as a sweet, next door, everyday Chinese Auntie. She was the woman behind Bersih 4.0, the largest rally yet organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections last year.
Like the female leads in popular, young adult dystopian novels these days, Maria redefines the stereotypical rebel, putting herself forward as an activist and a mother of three who wants a better Malaysia for her family and for the rest of the people. She is solid proof that anyone can activate, and advocate positive change.
But latest news? Maria was banned from travelling to Korea to receive her Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. Oh, and she was also charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act for organising a rally against corruption. How do we go forward from here, folks?
Make sure to let us know if you can think of any other inspiring individuals we should be talking about! Just leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you.