We wonder how it must feel like to be in the racing shoes of F1 Malaysia Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo – training for so long and risking life and limb on the track only to have news of his great success overshadowed by a bunch his own countrymen in their underwear.
If you missed the news, what happened is that nine Australians attending the last day of the F1 race on Sunday decided to strip down to their underwear and chug drinks from their shoes in honor of Ricciardo’s own celebration ritual. But what got people (and the police) ticked off wasn’t so much the stripping; it was the fact that their trunks were printed with the Malaysian flag, or Jalur Gemilang.
Of course, this has gotten them arrested and they’re currently being held in remand for the police to probe their…um…case. But what were they even arrested for? Like, is there a Akta Jangan-Pakai-Bendera-Sebagai-Underwear that we don’t know about?
Well, this isn’t the first time there’s been controversy about how the Malaysian flag is used. You might remember a couple of incidents last year, one where a metal band was heavily criticized for posting a picture the Jalur Gemilang upside-down, or where Malaysians ridiculed the authorities for holding the flag “terbalik” during the Merdeka Day parade (turns out they were wrong). So that kinda led us to wonder if there are guidelines on how to treat this national symbol…
“Did you know that you can’t throw away the flag? So like what do you do when it’s all old and rippy? – Lydia, CILISOS subeditor extraordinaire
Well, you (and Lydia) might be surprised to know that…
There’s actually a very extensive guideline on how to properly treat the Jalur Gemilang!
If you scoot your browser over to the Prime Minister’s Office punya website, you’ll find a link to a 30-page document (automatic download warning) listing down the history and meaning of the Jalur Gemilang as well as methods to properly display and care for it. Malaysia isn’t the only country with published guidelines too, since we also managed to find guidelines for other countries such as America, Singapore, and yes, even Australia.
The guide gives everything from the history of the flag to how to properly display and pay respect to it in almost all situations. For instance, didja know that our flag was designed by a Johorean? Not just that, when Mohamed bin Hamzah’s design was approved in Febuary 1950, the crescent and star were originally white and was only later changed to yellow to symbolize the Royalty. The Jalur Gemilang name itself was given by Dr. Mahathir on Merdeka Day 1997.
It must also be mentioned that the guidelines aren’t law. For instance, Malaysian shopowners and businesses are encouraged to display the flag outside their shops during Merdeka month, but there’s no legal requirement for them to do it (unless located in Subang Jaya). In the same sense, there’s also a proper way to stand in respect but you won’t get thrown in jail for putting your hands behind your back la.
But just to confirm , we checked with CILISOS favorite lawyer Fahri Azzat and this is what he told us:
“There is no specific offense of flag burning per se. I imagine they would have to rely on a more general law like Section 504.” – Fahri Azzat
We’ll get into the Section 504 bit later, but so far the only law that directly regulates use of the Jalur Gemilang is the Emblems and Names Act which prevents any organization or person from using the Jalur Gemilang or any government logo for commercial purposes in their marketing, design, or name without permission. Getting kids to draw it in school is still fine though
Also, it’s considered disrespectful to fly a torn or faded flag, so this is where Lydia’s question comes in. She’s right that you can’t just throw it in the tong sampah, so the proper way to dispose of the Jalur Gemilang is to burn it in a container. DO NOT OPENLY BURN IT BECAUSE YOU WILL KENA SEDITION OKAY
So now that we know there’s no specific law against disrespecting the Jalur Gemilang, what law did the Aussie fellas get arrested under?
The Australians were actually arrested for… PUBLIC INDECENCY (Section 504 whatevs)!
Things get a little more interesting when it comes to clothing because, while you’re advised to avoid wearing the Jalur Gemilang in any form, Merdeka month is an exception as long as you do it respectfully. You can’t use it in a way can be interpreted as lowering the dignity of the flag, like on towels, songkok, tablecloths, bedsheets, and umbrellas.
In other words, the wearing of the flag is subjective because difference between honor and disrespect is totally dependent on the person making the judgment. According to the police, the Australians were arrested under the following charges:
- Section 504 of the Penal (heheh) Code – Intentionally insulting or provoking someone to break the public peace. Punishment is up to 2 years in prison and/or a fine
- Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act – Using any indecent or abusive words or behavior with the intention of breaking the peace. Punishment is a maximum RM100 fine
Simplified, this means that they were arrested under the wider scope of causing havoc via the flag underwear and stripping.
One other interesting thing to note is that the local authorities have referred to what they were wearing as “underwear” while they were more likely wearing swimming trunks. The “Budgy Smuggler” printed on their behinds isn’t a dirty joke but rather a popular Australian swimwear manufacturer with – you guessed it – a whole range of flag-themed swim trunks (though they don’t have Malaysia listed on their site). So because it’s a company based in Australia, the Emblems and Names Act won’t be applicable to them.
But in the end, the legal stuff is up to our courts to decide. What is perhaps more important is the court of public opinion…
Should we really get so worked up over Jalur Gemilang underwear?
This whole incident has generated a whole lotta outrage online, with people asking for them to be caned la, jailed la, and for the company that made the offending swimwear to be sued (but now you know that this cannot be done).
And we can kinda see why too, since a country’s flag represents the entire nation – it’s a sign of sovereignty, identity, and unity which is both a national and cultural icon recognizable to any citizen regardless of race or background. This is why disrespecting flags are such a big deal; when you trample, burn or pee on a flag you essentially giving a giant middle finger to the entire country.
But what if the Australians were just trying to celebrate their time in Malaysia? There’s a chance that they could have been unaware of our sensitivities and laws and the Jalur Gemilang trunks were just a cheeky attempt at saying hello; even though it can be argued that they should definitely have known better since one of the arrested fellas is an advisor to Australia’s minister for Defense Industry.
In any case, the most recent update is that the courts have released all nine without punishment (but with a warning) after they pled guilty to the charges and read out an apology.
In the end, perhaps what the Australians committed was more of a crime against our national pride rather than any actual law. As we mentioned, there’s a very thin line between honoring and disrespecting since there’s actually been another group of people who’ve worn the Jalur Gemilang as trunks before this without any problems (and were probably seen as patriotic):
So what do you think? Did the Australians cross the line, and should they be punished?