Perhaps it was fortuitous that Aliran took the decision to become fully digitalised. We believe that we have conscientised and empowered some of these new writers, says Francis Loh.
Today … I want to highlight how, confronted by these important changes, some of which we still don’t fully understand, Aliran has organised several workshops and talks in 2015 to help us grapple with these changing realities.
Among others, we organised a public meeting to discuss the need for Bersih 4. We also held two workshops with other NGO friends to discuss current political developments, the break-up of Pakatan Rakyat, and the split in Pas resulting in the formation of Parti Amanah Negara. Up next was a public discussion of the TPPA in early December.
What were some of the other important events in 2015, and how did Aliran respond to them?
Of course, there was the 1MDB scandal. Aliran issued many statements and commentaries, and joined other civil society organisations in several joint statements on the 1MDB fiasco. I wish to highlight an excellent piece that Anil Netto wrote which examined the fiasco from the auditing perspective. Anil’s article, and other pieces were posted on our website.
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A special effort was the on-line petition condemning the Home Ministry’s decision to suspend The Edge and clamp down on Sarawak Report (which the prime minster also threatened to sue) because of their investigative reporting. Some 33,000 signatures were collected.
A rally in solidarity with The Edge was also organised in Speakers Square, George Town. In these various efforts, we worked closely with journalists and press organisations like Geramm and the Centre for Independent Journalism.
In part, Bersih 4 was in response to this 1MDB fiasco. The Bersih coalition, of which Aliran is an important part, at least in the northern region, called for reform of the electoral process and other political institutions, which we supported. Many of our members participated in the KL rally.
Together with other Penang-based civil society organisations, we organised a pre-Bersih forum in Penang and helped to mobilise Penangites to attend the KL rally. Our executive committee member, Sarajun Hoda, as deputy chairperson of Bersih 2.0, played an important leading role in Bersih 4, and did us proud.
Meanwhile, as the BN government began arresting critics and dissidents in relation to these two events, as well as those who participated in the spontaneous #kitalawan rallies protesting against Anwar Ibrahim’s re-jailing, Aliran launched another initiative, the ‘Crackdown Watch’, an online listing of people who had been detained.
Initially we only listed the people detained under the Sedition Act, but as increasing numbers of people were being detained under other coercive laws, we included those probed, detained and charged under the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act, the Peaceful Assembly Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and Sosma. This was meticulous work.
Aliran’s ‘Crackdown Watch’ (our listing begins with individuals who were arrested after the Sedition Act was first amended in 1969) is probably the most comprehensive listing of people probed, detained and charged under the Sedition Act and other coercive laws. It has served as a source of reference for people and civil service organisations monitoring human rights abuses in Malaysia. In this regard, it replaces the ‘ISA Watch’ that Aliran used to maintain on behalf of the Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI) coalition.
Perhaps it was fortuitous that Aliran took the decision to become fully digitalised. Because of that digitalisation, we were able to perform some of these on-line efforts effectively.
I would like to draw your attention to another initiative this year: the four Aliran Young Writers workshops that we conducted in Penang (two), Ipoh and KL. It was exciting for the young people and an eye-opening experience for the Aliran facilitators.
The short essays that the youth submitted for uploading onto our website were refreshing in terms of topics chosen and insights. Some of these young writers have continued to write articles for our website, which suggests that we are learning how to connect to them.
There was a follow-up activity in early November when Aliran collaborated with Awam to organise another workshop for youths that explored how gender, ethnicity and religion intersected in everyday relations in Malaysia. We believe that these workshops were relatively successful. And we intend to continue this work with young people.
We believe that we have been able to play an important role as critical analyst and as a site or platform for exploring alternative interpretations of current developments. We also believe that we have made a difference, at least with regard to the people who regularly attend our meetings and/or visit our website; the youths who have attended our workshops and nowadays write for us; and those civil society activists with whom we have co-organised and jointly participated in functions and activities.
We believe that we have conscientised and empowered some of these people. But we are only ‘game-changers’ in a limited sense – for we do not and cannot influence the direction of structural changes that are occurring in our economy and society.
Still, we believe that we have had some impact upon the direction of new politics in Malaysia. And we want to steer that new politics in the direction of ‘Justice, Freedom and Solidarity’.
That said, moving forward will depend on the resources – people, finances, technical – that we will have available. That work must also be sustained. Above all, it means that we need members to rally around the organisation to share the exciting and challenging work required.
Dr Francis Loh, a former professor of politics in Universiti Sains Malaysia, was re-elected president of Aliran at the 39th annual general meeting held in Penang on 29 November 2015. The above is the second part of his slightly revised and edited version of his president’s address at the meeting. The first part can be found here.