Jun 27, 11
National laureate A Samad Said today decried police investigations into his poem recital during a Bersih 2.0 event and said the authorities are now treating poetry as a weapon.
The septuagenarian was hauled up for about 90 minutes of questioning today at the Dang Wangi district police station on his poem recited during the June 19 ‘launch’ of the Bersih 2.0 rally.
(Refer to the poem Unggun Bersih below)
“Poetry has now become something extraordinary; it has now become a weapon,” he told a throng of journalists jostling to hear the soft-spoken man.
Pak Samad, as he is popularly known, is being investigated under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 27(5) of the Police Act 1967 which relates to unlawful assembly.
The laureate, easily recognisable by his shock of white hair and long white beard, said he was “saddened” that the authorities viewed his poem “with prejudice”.
“In my poem, I did say that we need to purify democracy, not muddle it or pollute it… and in poetry, those are suggestions that are very pure and should be appreciated, not viewed suspiciously.
“Personally, I find it rather strange why this has happened. A writer contributes through his art, to document a situation that is worsening, (but) it is viewed with such prejudice. This saddens me so,” he said.
Samad pointed out that rather than cowing the nation’s literary community, the actions of the police against him could likely spur a more spirited movement from his peers and fellow writers in pursuing the freedom of expression.
“It may be seen as a warning, but for writers, this would spur them and encourage them as they begin to realise that literature has power too,” he said.
“I intended to produce something that was pure, not to incite,” he said.
“It is the actions of the police that will spur the nation’s literary community to respond to his predicament.
“This act should motivate our literary community (to state their views openly),” Samad said when asked if the investigation into his poem would spook other writers and artistes from going public with their views.
‘Art cannot be interrogated’
Samad’s counsel, N Surendran, slammed the police for launching the probe into his client’s poem, stressing that this could possibly be the first time a literary great is being hauled up for “simply reading a poem”.
Surendran claimed the police had also asked “strange” questions, which insinuated that the Bersih 2.0 rally is politically motivated and at other times, matters completely unrelated to the investigation.
“They asked him where he got his datukship, whether the poets at the event (Bersih 2.0 launch) were paid to read out their poems and they even asked him if the event is politically motivated.
“I cannot recall an instance where a national laureate has even been investigated for poetry… we cannot cross-examine or interrogate art,” Surendran said.
Samad stood firm in his support for the rally, saying it should not be allowed to be hijacked and turned into a racial issue.
“I don’t want to touch on race. This is not about one race going against another, this is about Malaysians… I will be there,” he said.
Samad, a celebrated Malay poet and novelist, is no stranger to protest rallies, being one of the big names who joined the March 2009 mass gathering to protest the government’s policy on the teaching of Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI).
A strong proponent of Malay literature, he penned at least a dozen novels and countless poems, and has also worked as a journalist in several national Malay-language papers including Utusan Melayu, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian.
He was honoured as a national laureate, or Sasterawan Negara, in 1985.
Suhakam: Respect freedom of assembly
Meanwhile, in another related development, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) reiterated its position that it is the right of members of public to assemble and to express their views in a peaceful manner, as provided for under Article 10(1)(b) of the federal constitution, as well as Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The statutory human rights institution has called on the government to respect the freedom of assembly in many of its previous annual reports submitted to Parliament.
The reports also recommend that proportionate and non-violent methods be employed should the police find it necessary to control or disperse a crowd during an assembly.
“The commission calls on the authorities to allow the planned peaceful assemblies to be held, and on the parties intending to hold these assemblies to exercise their rights in a peaceful and responsible manner.
“The commission shall duly monitor the event,” its chairperson Hasmy Agam (above, right) said in a statement issued today.
Note: A. Samad Said read out only the last two stanzas of his poem
Semakin lara kita didera bara –
kita laungkan juga pesan merdeka:
Demokrasi sebenderang mentari
sehasrat hajat semurni harga diri.
Lama resah kita – demokrasi luka;
lama duka kita – demokrasi lara.
Demokrasi yang angkuh, kita cemuhi;
suara bebas yang utuh, kita idami!
Dua abad lalu Sam Adams berseru:
(di Boston dijirus teh ke laut biru):
Tak diperlu gempita sorak yang gebu,
diperlu hanya unggun api yang syahdu.
Kini menyalalah unggun sakti itu;
kini merebaklah nyala unggun itu.
The Bersih Fire
As the coals that molest us rage higher
we shout still the message of Merdeka
for democracy as bright as the sun
as pure as dignity our purpose is one
Deep is our worry – as democracy’s wounds
long is our sadness – as democracy’s woes
at arrogant democracy we scorn
for a strong free voice we dream
Two centuries ago Sam Adams decreed
in Boston was tea poured into blue seas
no need for riotous shouts full of ire
only for a truly heartfelt fire
Alight now the sacred fire
spread afar raging higher.