Ambiga Sreenevasan

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Ambiga Sreenevasan
அம்பிகா சீனிவாசன்
Ambiga Sreenevasan (Malaysia) remarks.png
Ambiga Sreenevasan speaks at the International Women of Courage Awards ceremony in 2009.
24th President of Malaysian Bar Council
In office
March 2007 – March 2009
DeputyMr. Ragunath Kesavan
Preceded byMr. Yeo Yang Poh
Succeeded byMr. Ragunath Kesavan
Member of the International Commission of Jurists
Assumed office
Serving with Chinara Aidarbekova (Kyrgyzstan), Gamal Eid (Egypt), Jamesina Essie L. King (Sierra Leone) and Michael Sfard (Israel)
PresidentRobert K Goldman (USA)
Chairwoman of Bersih 2.0
In office
2011 – 30 November 2013
Preceded bynone
Succeeded byMaria Chin Abdullah
Chairperson of Bar Council Orang Asli Committee
In office
Co-leading with Steven Thiru on 2011/2012 tenure
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded bySteven Thiruneelakandan & Hon Kai Ping (Co-chair)
Independent Director of Securities Industry Dispute Resolution Centre
In office
Executive Committee of Women's Aid Organisation
In office
President of National Human Rights Society (HAKAM)
Assumed office
Preceded byMr. Abdul Rashid Ismail
Member of Committee on Institutional Reforms
Assumed office
15 May 2018
Appointed byCouncil of Elders
Prime MinisterMahathir Mohamad
Personal details
Born (1956-11-13) 13 November 1956 (age 65)
Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia)
Spouse(s)Mr. S. Radhakrishnan (grandson of S. S. Vasan)
Relationsdaughter of Dato' Dr G. Sreenevasan
ChildrenGokul Radhakrishnan / Sharanya Radhakrishnan
Alma materUniversity of Exeter, England
Award(s)Darjah Dato' Paduka Mahkota Perak (DPMP), 2008[1]
International Women of Courage Award, 2009
Honorary Graduate of University of Exeter, 2011–12
Honorary Doctorate in Law (LLD) of University of Exeter, 2011
Legion of Honour, 23 September 2011[2][3]

Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan (Tamil: அம்பிகா சீனிவாசன், romanized: Ampikā cīṉivācaṉ; born 1956) is a prominent Malaysian lawyer and human rights advocate, and one of eight recipients of the US International Women of Courage Award in 2009. She was the president of the Malaysian Bar Council from 2007 to 2009, and co-chairperson of Bersih, an NGO coalition advocating free and fair elections.

She currently serves on the executive committee of the Women's Aid Organisation, and is on the Bar Council Special Committee on the rights of the indigenous Orang Asli people. She is a director of the Securities Industry Dispute Resolution Centre, and has been involved in the preparation and presentation of papers and memoranda on issues relating to the rule of law, the judiciary, the administration of justice, legal aid, religious conversion, and other human rights issues.

As former president of the Malaysian Bar, she played a significant role in the establishing of a panel of eminent persons, together with LAWASIA, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and Transparency International-Malaysia in the year 2008. This panel reviewed the judicial crisis of 1988 and issued a report which was the first of its kind, setting an important precedent for organisations to establish their own panel inquiring into abuses of power.[4]

In July 2011, she received an honorary Doctorate in Law (LLD) from the University of Exeter.[5]

Education, entry into law[edit]

Sreenevasan attended Convent Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur, where she also served as head prefect in 1975. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Exeter[6] in 1979, and was called to the English Bar at Gray's Inn in 1980. After working in two London law firms, she was admitted to the Malaysian Bar in 1982.[7]


Sreenevasan has been a practising advocate and solicitor since March 1982. She is a founding partner of Sreenevasan, Advocates & Solicitors.[8]

She was also a panellist of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration under the Malaysian Network Information Centre Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy ("MYDRP") from 2006 to 2009. She was chairperson of the Intellectual Property Sub-Committee of the Bar Council from September 2005 to March 2006. She was the vice-president of the Malaysian Intellectual Property Association in 2002.

Sreenevasan is a mediator on the panel of the Bar Council, Malaysian Mediation Centre. She is also co-chairperson of the Bar Council Committee on Orang Asli Rights and a member of the executive committee of the Women's Aid Organisation. She is a Director of the Securities Industry Dispute Resolution Centre. She has been involved in the drafting and presenting of several papers and memoranda on issues relating to the rule of law, the judiciary, the administration of justice, legal aid, religious conversion and other human rights issues.[citation needed]

As of 2015, she is the president of Hakam, Malaysia's National Human Rights Society.[9]

Malaysian Bar Council President 2007 – 2009[edit]

Elected in March 2007, Sreenevasan is the second woman to serve as president of the Bar Council. Six months after assuming her leadership, she organised the "March for Justice," in Malaysia's administrative capital, calling for judicial reform and the investigation of a videotape allegedly showing a key lawyer fixing judicial appointments and judges' case assignments. Her public actions, and an intense lobbying campaign, led to the formation of a Royal Commission, which called for corrective action.

Her attempts at discrediting the judiciary with the "Lingham tapes" as her evidence led her and the other members of the opposition into a trap from which they have never recovered. Although a special panel of retired judges concluded the "Lingham tapes" were "genuine", they failed to conclude what it was in the evidence before them led them to concluding "the tapes were genuine".

There was no evidence of a dialogue between Lingham (the man seen on the video recording), no evidence of a third party at the end of the phone Lingham was shown speaking on and no evidence of any additional voices that could have been attributed to a legitimate telephone conversation (dialogue) to lead to a conclusion the panel came to.

Sreenevasan's association with opposition members who referred to the courts of Malaysia as corrupt further drew condemnation abroad and in Malaysia. The attacks on the judiciary was seen as being disingenuous when it became known that she charges top dollar to her clients to contest their matters in the same courts she allows her associates to call corrupt.

Sreenevasan has also claimed to support the rule of law during her tenure, condemning the politically motivated arrests of two journalists.[citation needed] Although the government's banning of an ethnic Indian activist group Hindraf and the arrest of its members saw her intervention in preventing Hindraf lawyer Waytha Moorthi from receiving legal representation from the Malaysian Bar, she continues to be identified as a lawyer who assisted the group. In fact her intervention in preventing Hindraf from receiving legal assistance from the Malaysian Bar was widely condemned by the Indians and led to suspicion of her real political motives.

Probably Sreenevasan's most controversial work has been in the areas of religious freedom and women's rights. She has repeatedly confronted sexism in Parliament, taking her case directly to the public when necessary. "Gender equality is a responsibility of all Malaysians," she wrote in a press release that protested remarks made by a politician that she found patronising. She successfully fought to amend Malaysia's Federal Constitution to ensure that women's testimony would carry equal weight to men's in sharia courts. She continues to campaign for the religious freedom of women who convert to Islam upon marriage. Under current law, these women are not allowed to return to their original religions after being divorced, regardless of the reason for the divorce.

As a result of her attempts to resolve issues that continue to generate inter-ethnic tensions and constitutional problems, Sreenevasan has received hate mail, death threats, and had a Molotov cocktail thrown at her house. Hundreds of people from religious groups and conservative members of government have protested at the Bar Council building and called for her arrest.[10]

In 2008, as President of the Malaysian Bar she played a significant role in the establishing, in collaboration with LAWASIA, the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute and Transparency International-Malaysia, of a panel to review the judicial crisis of 1998. The panel issued a report that was the first of its kind, setting a precedent for the establishment of panels to inquire into abuses of power.[11]

Bersih 2.0 rally[edit]

Sreenevasan chaired Bersih 2.0, the organisation behind the July 2011 rally in Kuala Lumpur that drew 20,000 people.[12] She summed up the main issues raised by Bersih as "unhappiness... in the Sarawak [election], unhappiness about corruption, [and] unhappiness about the lack of independence of our institutions."[13] She said demands made during the first rally in 2007 have not been addressed, hence the follow-up rally.[14]

Sreenevasan later said that the rally "exploded many myths" in Malaysia, including the notion that people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds could not work together and that the middle class was "too comfortable to step up to the plate."[12]

Her involvement in the Bersih 2.0 rally, however, was not without controversy. While promoting "clean, free and neutral" elections, she also admitted and was found to have received foreign funding and support from two organisations and foundations in the US connected to the US State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The blogger Gopal Raj Kumar (believed to be a former radio journalist and lawyer) reported on in or around 2010 that Bersih leader Sreenevasan had received foreign funding for her involvement in Bersih. As well he reported that she "admitted to Bersih receiving some money from two US organisations – the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Open Society Institute (OSI) – for other projects, which she stressed were unrelated to the July 9 march."[15]

On September 21, 2012, Malaysia's New Straits Times published "Plot to destabilize government," which accused Bersih and other nongovernment organizations of plotting a conspiracy to destabilise the government using foreign funding.[16][17] Sreenevasan and fellow Bersih organizers filed for defamation, which resulted in High Court Justice Lee Heng Cheong ordering the New Straits Times Press (NSTP) to pay damages to the plaintiffs.[17][18] NSTP also issued an apology admitting the article was "false and without foundation."[17][18]

Dato Ambiga was appointed to the International Commission of Jurists in 2018.[19]


She is a member of the Malaysian Intellectual Property Association and was its vice president in 2002.[8] She is also a member of the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI), as well as the Asian Patent Attorneys Association (APPA).[citation needed] She headed Bersih 2.0, also called Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, a citizen's movement for free and fair elections.[20][21][22][23] In 2015, she led the Bersih 3.0 rally.[24][25][26]

B1A4 controversy[edit]

In 2015, Ambiga criticises JAWI (Federal Territories Religious Department) for issuing an arrest warrant to a hijab-clad Malay Muslim fan, whom second generation K-pop group B1A4 hugged at the controversial Kuala Lumpur "fanmeeting", citing the fans will "traumatised for the rest of their lives".[citation needed]


  1. ^ Perak honours list Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Bersih's Ambiga receives top French award". Malaysia: 24 September 2011. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  3. ^ "Conferment of the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour to Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan". Embassy of France in Malaysia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  4. ^ "Ambiga Sreenevasan – Honorary Graduates – University of Exeter". Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  5. ^ "Ambiga to be conferred doctor of law by UK varsity". Archived from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  6. ^ "A Reluctant Symbol for Electoral Reform in Malaysia". International Herald Tribune. 9 August 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2016 – via The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Ambiga Sreenevasan". Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  8. ^ a b "Ambiga Sreenevasan | Speakers | Oslo Freedom Forum". Oslo Freedom Forum. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  9. ^ "Malaysia's Many Scandals". The New York Times. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  10. ^ "Ambiga Sreenevasan: "Gender Equality Is a Responsibility for All Malaysians"". DipNote.
  11. ^ Ambiga Sreenevasan As President of Malaysian Bar. July 22, 2011 Archived 29 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ a b Pooch, Liz (8 August 2011). "A Reluctant Symbol for Electoral Reform in Malaysia". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 August 2011.
  13. ^ Boo, Su-Lyn (12 June 2011). "Bersih rally goes on, says Ambiga, PAS". The Malaysian Insider. Archived from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  14. ^ Boo, Su-Lyn (12 June 2011). "Ambiga asks politicians to join Bersih rally". The Malaysian Insider. Archived from the original on 13 June 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  15. ^ "Bersih repudiates foreign Christian funding claim - The Malaysian Insider". Archived from the original on 28 September 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  16. ^ Chu, Mei Mei (14 November 2013). "Malaysia's Oldest Newspaper Is Sorry For Baseless Article On Destabilising The Govt". Says. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  17. ^ a b c Lim, Ida (13 November 2013). "NSTP tenders apology to end Bersih libel suit". Malay Mail. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  18. ^ a b Nazlina, Maizatul (13 November 2013). "NSTP, reporter apologise to Ambiga and Bersih 2.0 over defamatory article". Star. Archived from the original on 25 May 2018. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  19. ^ "Former Bar chief Ambiga appointed to International Commission of Jurists | Malay Mail". Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  20. ^ "Q&A: Malaysia's Ambiga Sreenevasan". WSJ. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  21. ^ "Who else but Bersih 2.0 has been slapped with city clean-up bill? Ambiga asks Putrajaya". Malay Mail. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  22. ^ "Police's teargas on Bersih 3.0 crowd was 'reasonable force', court told". Malay Mail. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Lawmakers Recommend Changes to Malaysian Electoral System". International Herald Tribune. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 3 February 2016 – via The New York Times.
  24. ^ "Ambiga denies losing control of Bersih 3.0 crowd". Malaysiakini. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  25. ^ "Ambiga: 'Bersih 3.0' necessary if electoral reforms fail". The Malaysian Insider. Archived from the original on 4 February 2016. Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  26. ^ "Malaysian cops to question rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan Friday over alleged 'threat' of street rallies". The Straits Times. Retrieved 3 February 2016.