Repressing freedom

Helen Ang of The People’s Parliament ended one of her posts with this, and I quote: “Press reform? Or Repress reform?”

A timely question. Are we even moving anywhere near press freedom? Or are we repressing it? Is the government entirely at fault for this “repression” of press freedom? Or do the journalists and editors share the blame?

I read something on Zorro’s blog today about Irene Fernandez. To cut a long story short, she was charged under the PPPA for publishing “malicious untruths”, and after 7 years and 300 court appearances, she was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in 2003. She has since been released on bail awaiting an appeal to go through, but somehow or other, witness statements and evidence went “missing”, and so the court hearing has been put off till 11 June 2008, which is tomorrow.

I reproduce here the plea from her children that Zorro posted on his blog:

This is a plea. Quite plain & simple.

A plea for support.

There is no shame in pleading.

There is no shame when the cause is good.honest.just.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard from April 1st – 10th, after Five long, uncertain years since she was sentenced to 12-months imprisonment for

having a conscience
voicing out the cries of those who have been silenced
speaking the truth
doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, the appeal process may now be in jeopardy as a result of evidence, witness statements and trial records that have gone missing.11th June 2008 has now been set for the court to hear submissions from both lawyers on the implications of the missing records on the appeal.

This is our plea:
Please show your support by being present in the court room.
Please tell your friends.
Please be present in thought & spirit.
Please pray.
Please channel positive thoughts.

Please Never underestimate the power of solidarity.

We also ask this of you;

Regardless of which way judgment swings, please continue to act honestly, in good faith and in the name of justice, for these are also powerful ways through which we demonstrate solidarity.

Read more at Zorro’s blog here.


Also at Zorro’s blog, he provided a link to this site here, that contained more information about Irene. According to the website:

During the trial, the offices of Tenaganita were bugged and raided twice by government officers. The funds for their half-way house for women and children with HIV were stopped.

What I don’t understand is why these people don’t have a heart. Irene Fernandez was charged under the PPPA for reporting on the poor living conditions of migrant workers, of their abuse, of their ill-treatment. It is something we all know of. It is nothing new. And yet, when she wrote about it, the government decided that it was all “malicious untruths” and charged her under the PPPA.

Already, injustice was done. But why did they threaten to sabotage her efforts? Why bug and raid Tenaganita? And why did the funds for the half-way house stop? Do these people think that women and children with HIV who are supported by Tenaganita don’t deserve support because they are the “wrong people”?

There aren’t that many groups who really support migrant workers, prostitutes and the HIV+ in Malaysia. Even if they have been “distressed” by Irene’s piece of reporting, they shouldn’t have done this to the rest of the community who were depending on Tenaganita for their livelihood. Where is their compassion? Where is their conscience? Where is their heart?

There is also an acceptance speech by Irene on the previous website here. I take liberty to reproduce an excerpt of the speech, that was both enlightening, and touching:

One of the worst outcomes of injustices is poverty. It robs human beings of their dignity. When people are poor and when they are reduced to beggars, they feel weak, humiliated, disrespected and undignified. They hide alone in corners and dare not raise their voices. They are neither heard nor seen. They often suffer in isolation and desperation.

How many of us are this willing to throw all our efforts behind making the lives of others that much easier? How many of us reach out to touch lives that others shun away?

She is one of the few remarkable people that we have today. We can’t all be remarkable. But we have to do what little we can.

She was charged under the PPPA, an act that should be repealed. It has, and is continuing to suppress media freedom. It allows the government to pick and choose what they wish and wish not let known. It stops us from knowing the truth.

Aside from the plea that Irene’s children made, I have a small plea of my own. Please show your support for media freedom. Show that you care to know the truth. Endorse this memorandum. Spread the word. Get the ball rolling. Show solidarity.


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