Yes, a T-shirt can threaten public order, says Malaysia’s government

Public disorder?
Public disorder?
Image: Reuters/Edgar Su
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Last August tens of thousands of protestors peacefully rallied across Malaysia for clean government and democratic reform. Most of them wore yellow T-shirts with “Bersih 4” printed on them. Bersih means clean, and the “4” indicated it wasn’t the first such rally. This was despite a government ban on the shirts—and any other yellow material on which “Bersih 4” was printed—ordered a few days earlier by home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Today (Feb. 2) lawyers representing the government were compelled to defend that ban—which resulted in actual arrests—in response to a lawsuit from rally organizer Bersih 2.0.

The justification for such a ban does “not necessarily have to refer to actual public disorder,” argued counsel Suzana Atan, according to the Sun Daily. Instead, she said, it could be based on anything where, according to the home minister, “potential public disorder” will likely occur.

In the case of the August rallies, apparently, Zahid deemed the yellow shirts to be dangerous. The prosecution’s main point: There is no evidence to suggest that shirts alone can be threats to order.

A decision will be reached later this month.