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Bar Council’s monitoring team should not be subjected to investigation

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The Malaysian Bar is established by an Act of Parliament — the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA).

Under Section 42(1) of the LPA, the purpose of the Malaysian Bar shall include:

(a) to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour

(g) to protect and assist the public in all matters touching ancillary or incidental to the law

In fulfilment of these purposes, the Bar Council – as the decision-making body of the Malaysian Bar – has, from time to time, established teams of lawyers to observe and monitor public rallies, as well as to document their findings, to ensure that human rights and fundamental liberties are not abused and violated by the participants themselves, the authorities, the organisers or any other parties.

The most recent instance of such a team being deployed was during the #Lawan peaceful assembly held in Kuala Lumpur on 31 July 2021. As is the Malaysian Bar’s standard practice, we wrote to the inspector general of police on 30 July 2021 informing him of the presence of our monitoring team on that day.

The Malaysian Bar is therefore deeply disappointed that, despite this prior notification, the police have chosen to proceed to require one of the members of the Bar Council’s monitoring team on that day, Andrew Khoo, to present himself at the Dang Wangi District Police Headquarters on 5 August 2021 for questioning, pursuant to Section 111 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Andrew Khoo has been a member of the Malaysian Bar since 1995 and is a former Bar Council member, former co-chairperson of the Bar Council human rights committee and current co-chairperson of the Bar Council constitutional law committee. He has been observing and monitoring various peaceful public assemblies on behalf of the Bar Council or Malaysian Bar since 2007.

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The Malaysian Bar’s mandate is clear. Apart from our statutorily established role and mandate as set out in the LPA, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted in 1990, which the government of Malaysia supported, is very clear on this point. It states, in paragraphs 14, 16 and 17 that:

14. Lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law and shall at all times act freely and diligently in accordance with the law and recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession….

16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers

(a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;

(b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and

(c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.

17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

In addition, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders made in 1998, which the government of Malaysia adopted by consensus with other members of the UN, places a responsibility and duty on states to, among others, “protect, promote and implement all human rights” and to “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration”.

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At a time when the government of Malaysia is actively seeking a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2022–24 term, actions in disregard of its international commitments and obligations made at the UN only serve to undermine that very endeavour.

The Bar Council’s monitoring team should not be sought out and subjected to investigations for merely carrying out the lawfully established mandate of the Malaysian Bar of “upholding the cause of justice … uninfluenced by fear or favour”.

AG Kalidas is president of the Malaysian Bar

This piece is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only.

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