No, you’re not reading an old article and there’s no Bersih rally coming up. Rather, this is a funny-in-a-sad-way kinda follow up to the Bersih 4.0 rally last August. If you remember, one of the issues that cropped up during Bersih 4.0 was that Home Minister Zahid Hamidi banned yellow t-shirts with the words “Bersih 4” because it was a “threat to national security“.
Well, the people from Bersih challenged that decision in court and, after a long legal battle, the Malaysian High Court decided that yes, the t-shirts are a threat to national security and therefore… illegal. In fact, the national security threat ruling doesn’t just involve the shirts, but everything that’s Bersih 4 related – so stuff that are equally banned are brochures, pamphlets, stickers…
…and even minion dolls!
Don’t go burning your Minion toys yet though… it’s only the dolls with the Bersih 4 text/logo that are illegal, for reason that we’ll get to later in this article.
But how did the Home Ministry put this ban into effect? What law did they use? Can we get in trouble for having a Bersih 4 booklet in our car? These are the interesting behind-the-scenes bits that we found out when we spoke to New Sin Yew, one of the lawyers at BON Advocates who represented Bersih in court; and Dobby from human rights group SUARAM. So let’s start off with how much of a threat Bersih merchandise are…
Bersih merchandise are as threatening as 50 Shades of Grey!
Bet you thought the featured image was a random joke, eh?
Considering that it’s to do with national security, you might be led to think that one of our counter-terrorism or domestic safety laws would be used, but nuh-uh… The law that actually used was *dun dun dun*
Section 7 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA)!
Dobby pointed out that this is the same law that was used to ban the 50 Shades of Grey novels – which we thought was about colorblind people but actually turned out to be pornographic. While you might think the connection between 50 Shades and Bersih might be really far off, it isn’t from a legal standpoint:
“After having considered the submission, I find that order was within the confines of the minister’s power. … The fact that the assembly was illegal, as alleged in para 11 in the affidavit Jawapan Responden (respondent’s reply) affirmed by the minister, was not challenged and disputed by the applicant” – Mohd Yazid Mustafa, presiding judge, as quoted by Malaysiakini.
Yep, the High Court judge ruled in favor of the Home Ministry not only because Bersih was considered illegal by the authorities, but also because Section 7 of the PPPA actually gives the minister the authority to ban any materials that he feels would be harmful to the public or the nation. So although the specific reasons for banning 50 Shades and Bersih shirts were different, they were under the same umbrella of “harmful materials”.
Either that or because Bersih is about freeing yourself from government bondage. Hur hur hur.
Also, the fact that it’s “any” materials is interesting, because…
You can be arrested for owning ANYTHING that’s yellow and says “Bersih 4”
Under Section 7 of the PPPA, a minister has the right to ban:
“…any publication contains any article, caricature, photograph, report, notes, writing, sound, music, statement or any other thing…” – quoted from Section 7 (1), Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
According to Sin Yew,
yew you can be arrested and fined up to RM5,000 for having any Bersih 4 merchandise. But the problem now is that the definition of what the Home Minister can consider illegal is so wide that almost anything yellow and contains the words “Bersih 4” can get you in trouble:
The joke now is, as Sin Yew pointed out, newspapers MAY also get in trouble if they printed a photo of a Bersih 4 poster/t-shirt/whatever. And ironically enough, even the anti-Bersih supporters (remember the red shirt guys?) can get in trouble because their anti-Bersih shirts still fall under this category!
Sin Yew also mentioned that they’re planning to challenge the High Court’s decision in the Court of Appeal, but until then we suggest you remove those Bersih car stickers from your windows.
So what if I have a Bersih 4 leaflet in my car? Like that also can arrest ah?
Uhm…. short answer is yes. Because it’s illegal, you can be arrested for simply being in POSSESSION of Bersih 4 merchandise – even if it doesn’t belong to you.
So whether you’re wearing a Bersih t-shirt out to a shopping mall or if the police happen to search your car and find a leaflet that your friend happened to leave behind, chances are high that you’re going to get cuffed and sent to the police station. This same rule would apply to the police finding Bersih 4 stuff in your house, but if the police were raiding your house then finding a couple of Bersih shirts would be the least of your worries la 🙄
Unfortunately, we can’t provide you with a definite list of items that’ll get you in trouble. We tried to get in touch with the Home Ministry to get a better idea of what would be considered illegal, but they didn’t pick up the phone 🙁
On this note though, Dobby tells us that this is considered a relatively minor offense so if the cop is nice enough you might be able to get away with a warning. Just don’t go cari pasal and dance around Putrajaya in a Bersih shirt, k?
How the heck are t-shirts and car stickers harmful to the country?
Actually, this is the one part we can’t answer because we also dunno. The main argument here is that they are illegal because the Bersih rallies are illegal, and have the potential to cause a public disturbance.
What we do know is that this isn’t the first time such an announcement was made – the Home Ministry also made a similar announcement back in 2011, and there were reports of people with Bersih shirts being arrested. However, the difference is that this time, it was actually put into official writing (Gazetted) so it kinda becomes an official law.
But the funny thing about human nature is that the moment something is banned, it instantly gains more attention. Every time the government blocks a website, CILISOS’s article on unblocking sites gets a spike in views and shares. Similarly, when artist-activist Fahmi Reza received a warning about his depiction of PM Najib as a clown, local artists banded together to create even more clown pictures under the Kita Semua Penghasut tagline. Some even found pretty creative ways to subtly share the pictures:
So when we asked Sin Yew and Dobby how people could get around this ban, they said it’s pretty subjective… If it’s a red t-shirt that says “Bersih 4”, it should technically be okay. Same thing with a yellow shirt that says “Bursih 4″. But don’t take our word for it though. As mentioned, the definition is so wide that what counts as legal or illegal is a pretty wide grey area.
Probably as wide as 50 shades of grey.