Her childhood ambition was to become a doctor but after discovering that a medical degree programme would require seven years of studying, Melissa Sasidaran opted to take up law instead. Upon completing her Law degree in 2009, she commenced a nine-month pupillage before getting called to the Bar in 2010, and acknowledged as a full-fledged lawyer.
Melissa had been involved in numerous public interest cases particularly in defending criminal charges under laws such as the Sedition Act and Peaceful Assembly Act, as well as represented families in cases of custodial deaths, police shootings and statelessness. She had previously served as a legal coordinator coordinator for Lawyers For Liberty (LFL), a human rights lawyers organisation.
In 2017, she was selected as a Chevening scholar and went to pursue an LLM in human rights, conflict and justice at the SOAS University of London. “The part I missed the most while I was away was the campaigning for elections. However, I was one of those who participated in a protest in London because the ballot papers were posted late to us and it was near impossible to get the ballots back to Malaysia on time,” she shares. “Some received the ballot papers a day before the elections and I wanted to raise awareness about the issue and our right to vote. I also posted a picture of me holding a placard which went viral asking, where is our ballot paper?”
Naturally, the newly-appointed director of LFL was overjoyed when there was a change of federal power for the first time in Malaysia’s history in the general election in May last year. “In the past, we were constantly at police stations and the courts due to the crackdown and arrest of civil society activists and Malaysians. With the new administration now, we can finally focus on reforms of human rights issues that matter, such as police reforms and statelessness,” she says.
If she could make a change, Melissa would like for every stateless child in Malaysia to be granted citizenship. “So many children can’t go to school because they don’t have documentation or are stateless for various reasons. It’s our duty to resolve this and I hope in time to come, I’ll be able to effect a positive change,” she concludes.
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