Adam Adli Abdul Halim first made headlines in 2011 when he lowered a flag depicting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at a protest demanding academic freedom, when he was a student at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI).
BY DEBORAH AUGUSTIN
Published: 22 June 2015 11:00 AM
Since then, Adam has been repeatedly arrested for his involvement in various civil society causes. In May 2013, he was charged under the Sedition Act for a speech he made at a post-general election forum urging Malaysians to take to the streets to protest the widely contested elections results.
He was then sentenced to a year in jail on September 19, 2014, by far the harshest sentence meted out by the courts since the beginning of the ongoing sedition dragnet. Yet, he remains unfazed. Currently out on bail before his appeal hearing on 25 June, Adam has been in Geneva over the last week for an advocacy trip during the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to bring awareness to the ongoing crackdown on civil liberties in Malaysia.
Deborah Augustin spoke to him.
You are in Geneva ahead of your trial on June 25 to appeal a one-year sentence under the Sedition Act. But the incident that led to this trial (the May 13 forum) is not the first time you have been arrested. What started your involvement in social causes, and what keeps you involved despite the great risk?
I believe that this country deserves a better chance; the people deserve a greater opportunity. We have been living under the same regime for many generations for the last 57 years. Change is definitely needed. We can’t progress if we don’t take a leap of faith.
The price for change is always expensive. And I believe it is my generation’s responsibility to make it happen; a better, new Malaysia where everyone can finally enjoy being a citizen. And that is why I am willing to take the risk. I don’t want to regret not doing anything in the future while I could.
Did you ever think your activism would take you to the UN in Geneva? And what are you hoping to get out of this trip?
I never really expected that my work and activism would take me here (Geneva). But this is not in any way to be treated as a vacation.
The trip to Geneva is a process and an effort, not a reward. The real fight is at home. The real reward is to see a liberated country.
My hope is that this trip will personally give me new experiences and broaden my views on the activism and fight that we have been involved in. To gain more understanding on how much more we need to do to achieve our goal, and to open up more possibilities to keep the struggle going.
I also got the chance to meet more of my species (i.e. people who’ve been involved in political and social struggle). It is eye opening to see just how much more we need to do to help more people who are being oppressed in so many ways all over the world. We are not alone.
On June 18, you delivered an oral statement on behalf of Forum Asia at an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association. When did you know you were going to do this, and what was it like to do that?
I was told by our colleagues in London a few months ago that there was an opportunity for me to push our agenda forward, meaning the Sedition Act, political oppression, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression in Geneva, and it will be a great help to the struggle. I knew that my case would be submitted orally by Aliran and Suaram by Bala Chelliah [lead coordinator in Geneva of Suaram International], but then I was told by Forum Asia that I would be given the opportunity to also speak at the same event on behalf of them.
The oral submission was a good experience. I have no experience in this, and I’m grateful that Forum Asia entrusted me with the responsibility. I did not only speak for myself, but I also spoke for other people who are being oppressed, especially in South East Asia. I may have never met them, but I’m glad that I got to chip in to help them with their cause.
What have been some of the highlights of your trip in Geneva?
The highlights, apart from the submission to the Human Rights Council, would be the side event where three panelists from Malaysia, Kar Fai, Nurul Nuha and myself, along with Forum Asia’s John Liu, talked about the ongoing situation of dreedom of assembly and freedom of expression in Malaysia. Malaysian cases were cited at the Interactive Dialogue at the UN more than once (as Yasmin Masidi from Empower also spoke about Malaysia). The international community is now more aware of Malaysia’s human rights issues.
You’ve been meeting with desk officers, and representatives of international NGOs in Geneva to talk about the state of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Malaysia. Who have you met, and what have your meetings been like?
I have met representatives from many countries like the EU, UK, Indonesia, and also organisations like Article 19 to brief them on the situation in Malaysia. I also got the chance to meet and interact with Maina Kiai and David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression and Opinion and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association.
Everyday, we will have multiple meetings with many people. It has to be real quick, straight to the point. No time to waste.
How do you plan on continuing the campaign for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Malaysia?
Now that I have a better understanding on the mechanism and tools provided by not just the UN but also many other bodies and organisations, I can make use of them to push forward our agenda and campaign, as well as to promote and publicise them. With the networks we developed during the trip, we can now look forward to more possibilities in the future.
In Geneva, during a side event on Malaysia, you said that the campaign against the Sedition Act, Universities and University Colleges Act and Peaceful Assembly Act are not issues that affect people’s livelihoods, people feel they don’t affect them. What do you say to someone who thinks that?
It is true that human rights issues like freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are not bread and butter issues. Many people think that it’s not their problem, and they can live without concern for these issues.
But one day, if society stays reluctant in defending these people who’ve been voicing out on behalf of them, and all these human rights defenders are sent to jail, forced into exile, etc.; when things finally get worse and affect their daily lives (like corruption that leads to price hikes and inflation, mass poverty etc.), we will be left with nobody to speak on our behalf anymore.
You will be arriving in Malaysia a day before your appeal trial, how are you feeling about the trial?
It will be the mention for my appeal. I will stay as calm as ever. It’s almost part of my life already, going to the courts.
What do you hope for Malaysia in the next five years?
I pray that we will not have to face the same situation as we are having today, where democratic space for ideas to be debated is restricted and speeches are deemed as subversive activities.
I’m hoping for at least a society that can embrace the reality that we have differences in language, culture, political views, and religion, but we are after all, a Bangsa Malaysia. We’ve done this in the past; we can do this again, once more. – June 22, 2015.