National laureate probed over ‘seditious poem’

Joseph Sipalan
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.

  1. #1 by dagen on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 9:08 am

    Umno has gone mad. No. Berserk. Absolutely berserk.

    I can see BTN’s shadow boxing being played out in full by umno. Next time bring a few cochroaches and release them publicly. This will surely send umno into an anti-cochroach frenzy.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 9:29 am

    Strange n terrible things r happening in 1M’sia, transforming 2 b a polis state n autocracy
    Bersih is a dirty word, yellow is sinister, words not praising UmnoB r criminal
    On d other hand, words demeaning democracy n instigating racial n social fear, uttered by privileged individuals, r OK
    Signs of an insecured failed state, clinging 2 power n resisting changes, aplenty

  3. #3 by DAP man on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 9:51 am

    Well done and Thank You to UMNO and PDRM. You have unwittingly made Samad’s poem famous.

    Now every single Malaysian will want to read and digest this poem.

  4. #4 by bruno on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:12 am

    As usual only a lowdown cowardly scum like Umno would pick on a senior citizen.A real shame and disgrace to their elders and family.Samad Said is a national laureate and not a holigan or gangster like Umno’s counterparts.You write a poem and you get ISAed.Umno goons stepped on cow’s head and threatened bloodshed and get invited to HM’s office for chit chat.

  5. #5 by bruno on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:23 am

    Hisham,surely as HM you have something to say about your surbodinates actions.Don’t you think that it is a disgrace to send your thugs to shake up a senior citizen.This senior citizen is old enough to be your grandfather.What if it was the other way like it.Don’t self degrade below Mugabe’s level,okay,sleep easy lah.

  6. #6 by ablastine on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:25 am

    The more the police intimidate the people the more the people feel compel to come forward to march. Keep it up PDRM. After a while Bersih no longer need to promote themselves. The Police will do it for them.

  7. #7 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:28 am

    Its an ill wind that blows across M’sia n a prelude 2 another ops lalang with ISA used 2 nip d bud of 1M’sia Spring

  8. #8 by bruno on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:35 am

    Umno Baru under Dr. Mahathir has not sunk this low and cowardly.Umno Baru under Najib,Muyiddin and Hisham has sunk this very much lower and very more cowardly.I think Dr. Mahathir has more marbles than this trio.

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:37 am

    The laws of sedition are used (abused rather) against those who threaten the established order of entrenched vested interests. He was admired, conferred national laureate, for championing the Malay language – not for march against Malay elites. The power of a poem is never to be under-estimated. This because poetry evokes emotions; its lnguage aims at the heart and has staying power. It resonates way after the words of politicians have been forgotten. Esp those of a national laureate admired.

    That poetry/poem shook ground worldwide is well documented: In Phillippines, Jose Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios”; in the old world Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, all found ways to hail or rage against kings and governments through their work.

    ‘When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.” – John F Kennedy.

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 10:51 am

    Bersih 1.0 or 2.0 is a threat to Ruling Elites. It’s aimed at the heart of their vulnerability. This because electoral irregularities are one of th main tools in preservation of power under democratic charade. So it must be suppressed. However to do so has unprecedented complications. May 13’s emergency Operation Lallang were easier because they fitted to the mould of ruling elites’ ideology of defending Ketuanan. Bersih is different in that it’s for all Malaysians marching for clean elections which no sane ruling politician can argue against. Besides if Ibrahim Ali were right principally the greater numbers will be Malays marching against Malays (which a clamp down based on defence of Ketuanan) does not fit. Especially when a Malay poet laureate even supports it.

    Which is why they prefer arresting PSM members under some flimsy “communist” plot – to evince political will and deliver a message of threat hoping it has deterrent value to defuse the march. Its like a step by step measure to give the other side (Bersih) a chance to back off. They may clamp big way – I am 90% sure they will when push comes to shove- but that’s not the first resort, unless pressed to the corner with no other alternatives to defuse..To accomodate- unlikely.

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 11:03 am

    In confrontations that risk unacceptable losses on both sides, the strategy is always to do something (in this case make a few arrest) step up pressure whilst at the same time give the other side a rope to hang on, a face saving out so that events don’t inexorably lead to the final showdown. (Hence EC’s conciliatory offer to talk though Amiga said we walked).

    In Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to brink of nuclear holocaust – instead of a dawn raid on Cuba to take out missiles, JFK opted for naval blockade, so that Khrushchev’s warship streaming towards Cuba could turn back, which they did. The carrot / gesture was for US to withdraw its base from Gibraltar, something that US had no need for. Khrushchev took it (as meaningful concession) and thus saving face could decide to avert the otherwise inevitable confrontation.

  12. #12 by voice2009 on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 12:46 pm

    Later Life & Death
    In 1977, Tunku Abdul Rahman became the chairman of The Star, a newspaper which was banned in 1987 by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad because of its provoking columns that were harshly critical of the Malaysia’s government. Following a rift with in UMNO, he unsuccessfully tried to establish a new party UMNO Malaysia. In the general election of 1990,Tunku Abdul Rahman actively participated and widely campaigned against Mahathir Mohamad despite his worsening health. He died on 6 December 1990, aged eighty seven and his body was buried at the Langgar Royal Mausoleum in Alor Star.


    They supported MAMA rather then their Malay Pride independent father Tunku Abdul Rahman

    What Malay unity they were talking about?

    Corrupted politician to them self-greed personal gain are more important than anything

  13. #13 by voice2009 on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 12:47 pm

    They supported MAMA rather than their Malay Pride independent father Tunku Abdul Rahman

    What Malay unity they were talking about?

    Corrupted politician to them self-greed personal gain are more important than anything

  14. #14 by sheriff singh on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 12:49 pm

    The poem hit some raw nerves and BN is crying out in pain and in desperation.

    Truly, the pen is mightier than the sword and the police have all gone irrational.

  15. #15 by Cinapek on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 - 2:34 pm

    BN is trying to have the world believe that Malaysia will descend into anarchy when 30 members of the public (15 0f them women with some underage members) “will wage war against the Agong” with placards, banners, T shirts and slogans. And National Laureates will incite the public to overthrow the Govt with seditious poems.

    This is how “lembik” the BN Govt is to fear such protests. And now we have Malaysia’s version of “Baghdad Ali” using the same script as 1969 by claiming that the communist bogeyman is behind the Bersih rally as a prelude to an ISA crackdown.

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