Free at last, double joy for ‘balloon girl’ in Merdeka month (VIDEO)

Ida Lim
Bilqis Hijjas (left) speaks to reporters after she was finally freed from a 2015 case over the release of yellow balloons at an event attended by Datuk Seri Najib Razak. — Picture by Ida Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 — Dance producer Bilqis Hijjas said she was elated that her lasting acquittal of a three-year-old charge for dropping yellow balloons near former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, coincided with this year’s Merdeka month.

Bilqis, 39, said she was “extremely relieved” she no longer must face the criminal charge of “insulting behaviour”, noting that it has been a “long journey”.

“It’s almost exactly three years to the day from the date of the occurence which was on Hari Merdeka in 2015.

“And I’m extremely happy to be free of this in Merdeka month and hoping for the same for other people who have other charges still being levelled against them,” she told reporters here immediately after the prosecution dropped an appeal against her second acquittal.

Malaysia celebrates its 61st anniversary of Merdeka this year.

She was charged in September 2015 over the release of several yellow balloons printed with the words “Free media,” “Democracy” and “Justice” on August 31, 2015 at around 3.15pm at the Pavilion mall in Kuala Lumpur during the Kuala Lumpur International Arts Festival’s opening ceremony.

Bilqis had already been acquitted twice before of the offence of “insulting behaviour” with the purpose of provoking anger that may cause a breach of peace, with the offence under Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 punishable by a maximum RM100 fine.

The charge did not specify who was allegedly insulted.

Bilqis’ lawyer, Eric Paulsen, said today that a letter was previously written to urge the Attorney General to drop its appeal against Bilqis’ second acquittal as it was a “frivolous” matter that involved a mere peaceful expression of speech by his client.

“But the more important issue is it seems very petty because she has been acquitted twice and it was appealed yet again, so I think it doesn’t bode well for the prosecution in the country because you seem to be quite vindictive in nature,” he told reporters, adding that prosecutors should focus on actual criminal cases instead of petty political matters.

When met later, deputy public prosecutor Nur Hafizah Rajuni confirmed to reporters that the Attorney-General’s Chambers accepted the letter of representation from Bilqis.

Paulsen also said today that credit should be given to Bilqis for choosing as a “matter of principle” to continue going to the courts for the past three years to challenge her prosecution, despite it being a minor criminal offence punishable by a maximum RM100 fine.

“It was a frivolous case to begin with. Bilqis was only defending her right to freedom of expression, freedom of speech, but as you know, things that are political in nature in Malaysia under the old administration are often exaggerated.

“I hope this is no longer in Malaysia Baru. This is a very good start and we hope all politically-motivated cases will be withdrawn, and there will be no further investigation for cases like those under the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Sedition Act,” he said.

Bilqis’ family was present in court today, including her father Hijjas Kasturi, her mother Angela Hijjas and sister Dr Mulaika Hijjas.

Today, Bilqis stressed the need for Malaysians to continue to hold the government accountable even after the change in power from Barisan Nasional to Pakatan Harapan.

“In our new government, obviously we have great hopes for our future and great hopes for change.

“But as always, as citizens, we have a responsibility to hold our government to account and to ensure that they work for us. And that is our responsibility and we need to continue to uphold that,” Bilqis, who has been dubbed the “balloon girl”, told reporters.

When asked if she had any more yellow balloons, Bilqis said she did not currently have them but could get more if required.

“If there’s ever another Bersih, obviously I will be there. And if there’s a need for yellow balloons, then they will have to come out of the cupboard,” she said lightheartedly.

Bilqis was referring to the election reform group Bersih 2.0’s rallies, which often featured the watchdog’s signature yellow colour.