KUALA LUMPUR: When the family of A Kugan, who was found dead while in detention in 2009, cast doubts on the circumstances surrounding his death, they sought the help of a human rights and law reform group which was only a year old then, to help them fight for justice.
This case thrust Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) into the forefront as one of the most vocal rights groups, which was not afraid to challenge even the police.
Today, LFL is synonymous with cases of custodial deaths, police
violence and other high-profile cases. “We don’t shy away from difficult cases or controversial ones. Most lawyers in Malaysia are quite conservative and they limit their work to court but we are a bit more activist-minded and radical,” its executive director, Eric Paulsen, told The Malaysian Insider.
“We feel that the best approach is to go on the offensive. I feel that’s where LFL has the most impact.”
Paulsen, who co-founded LFL along with fellow lawyers N Surendran and Latheefa Koya, said the group began working together from 2007 after they were detained for unlawful assembly.
“On World Human Rights Day, we had about 100 lawyers marching from Sogo to the Bar Council building and several of us were arrested, including myself, Surendran, Latheefa, R Sivarasa (Subang MP) and Amer Hamzah. And we were charged but were later acquitted. So we have been working informally as a collective group of lawyers since then although we only set up LFL in 2010.”
Paulsen said the need to set up a formal organisation came up four years ago. “We had been doing it without the backing of an organisation for three years and then we realised that there was a real need for an organisation like LFL. We were meeting up in coffee shops and all, and we decided to become a bit more established,” he said, adding that now, LFL has an office with resources and funding.
“But I would be lying if I said I was not concerned with what I say. With the way the Sedition Act is being used now, I might be next. We try not to think about it but if it happens, it happens,” he said. — Refer to The Malaysian Insider for the full report.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 5, 2014.