On Friday 31 May, Majed Kheir, a dynamic, young criminal lawyer with Kheir Lawyers (a prominent law firm based in Bankstown) addressed Sydney University students on the legalities of protests and the rights of protesters.

As previously reported by AMUST, Sydney University has been the site of a student encampment since mid-April, focusing on the Gaza crisis and the University’s ties with the weapons company Thales.

A devout Muslim with a real passion for justice, Mr Kheir has been actively involved in a number of high-profile matters concerning Gaza, also representing individuals charged at pro-Palestine protests and securing the dismissal of all charges.

Additionally, he collaborated with major religious organisations to address media narratives and law enforcement approaches towards young Muslims in southwest Sydney, advocating for fair treatment and justice.

Regular AMUST contributor John Mahoney recently caught up with Majed Kheir, who provided some important information, which  should be of great interest to readers:

Successful lawyer Majed Kheir.

John Mahoney: Salam Alaykum, Majed. Thank you for your time today and congratulations on the great advocacy work you are doing, particularly with regard to the Sydney University Palestine encampment and also providing legal representation for the protesters charged. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a criminal lawyer?

Majed Kheir: As a young kid growing up, I idolised my father in many ways and sought to emulate him however I could. Like many young boys, my dad was my hero and seeing him carry out his important work as a lawyer, representing the downtrodden and unspoken for in our community at a time in Australia’s history where there really were so few people able to stand up and speak out on our behalf was inspiring.

As for criminal law, I always imagined my strengths as a lawyer to be based in oral advocacy and the adversarial nature of the criminal justice system and so I felt naturally drawn to the battles that take place on a daily basis in Sydney’s criminal courts.

JM: How has your faith influenced your work and approach as a lawyer?

MK: At the risk of sounding cliché, faith really is everything. Every obstacle I face, every difficult day in the office, every trying client and every unwinnable case can be remedied with a trip to the masjid, a solitary moment of dua and a prayer on the Beloved (s).  Islam for me has made the turbulent and stressful nature of the legal profession much more bearable and enjoyable, I find that my faith and profession often intertwine with my passion for justice rooted primarily in my dedication to my religious values first and then the demands of my profession second.

I find myself oft-reflecting on the verse in Surah Nisa, Ayah 135 where Allah says:

“O you who have believed: be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or [your] parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So, follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just.”

That really is as beautiful, comprehensive and eloquent a summary of the concept and rigorous requirements of justice as one could ever hope for.

A pro-Palestine protest at Port Botany in late March, 2024 (solidarity.net.au photo)

JM: What challenges have you faced in your career, particularly when dealing with cases related to Palestine protesters?

MK: The most challenging aspect of representing pro-Palestinian protestors or in fact anyone whom I feel has been dealt a bad hand by our justice system is keeping my personal feelings in check so that I can sufficiently discharge my obligations towards my clients without being overwhelmed by anger or sadness.

It is a difficult line to toe, particularly because there is strength to be drawn from those personal feelings and it is unwise to drown them out entirely. However, they are dangerous and as advocates we are required to keep those emotions adequately in control for risk that they derail our ability to properly advocate and advance our client’s cause.

JM: What do you believe are the key legal rights that every protester should be aware of?

The most important piece of advice I reserve for anyone asking about protests is: learn LEPRA! The Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act is the backbone of all interactions with police and everyone attending public assembly and protest (and everyone in general!) should be aware of their rights and responsibilities at law. An informed people is a formidable foe.

JM: How do you balance your professional responsibilities with your activism for justice?

MK: It has become much less of a ‘balance’ in recent months so I certainly don’t feel as though I am in any position to give advice on the matter. However, I am grateful to have an amazing team behind me at Kheir Lawyers who are not only fully supportive of my activism and pro bono work, but who actively encourage and assist me in doing so. There are also so many more lawyers, academics, activists and other amazing people in the sphere that my role is merely a supporting one.

 

The student encampment for Palestine at Sydney University.

JM: What are your thoughts on Sydney University’s affiliation with the weapons company Thales?

MK: It is undeniably shameful for the University of Sydney to be so heavily affiliated with a corporation that profits off the back of a genocide that has killed over 50,000 civilians in 200 days, with more than half of those being children. History will be the judge of the University and it will not judge it kindly.

JM:  How has the student encampment at Sydney University or indeed University encampments around the world impacted public awareness of the Gaza crisis?

MK: The encampment has been amazing. It has exposed the deep-seated ties between the University of Sydney and the ongoing genocidal occupation in Gaza and Palestine. It has also served to unite the Muslim community and brought together Muslim youth, academics, scholars, speakers and other community leaders to unite for the common cause of calling on the University to sever those shameful ties with genocide. The atmosphere at the encampment, contrary to the comical reporting in mainstream media, has been amazing. It has fostered an atmosphere of brotherhood and sisterhood amongst campers and guests that is really unique and unlike anywhere else I have experienced.

JM: What role do you think lawyers should play in advocating for human rights and social justice?

MK: Lawyers have always played a critical role in standing for human rights and social justice. Many of my great mentors, role models and senior colleagues in the profession have paved the way by showing me that as lawyers, we have been bestowed a significant honour with the opportunity to act as a “leveller” where society creates inequality; from which injustice is inevitably espoused. Through the courts, legal advice, interpretation and general role as advocates, lawyers are an integral tool to ameliorating the injustices that we see so often today.

JM: How do you address the differences in law enforcement’s treatment of young Muslims compared to other groups?

MK: I believe knowledge is the key factor to addressing this age-old issue. Where our community has previously been caught behind the 8-ball when it comes to our interactions with law enforcement, we see a new generation of informed, educated and upright young Muslims who are aware of their rights and responsibilities, making them more well-equipped to deal with such interactions than previous generations.

Sydney University students praying for Palestine.

JM: What advice would you give to young Muslims aspiring to enter the legal profession?

MK: To remain sincere to their religious and cultural heritages. Unfortunately, it is common to see many young Muslims enter the profession and feel the need to whitewash their religious and cultural beliefs and practices. The legal profession has come a long way over the past few decades and is an incredibly welcoming and nurturing place. One can be an upright and proud young Muslim and excel as a lawyer. The two are certainly not mutually exclusive. Rather, the profession, and ourselves are professionals, are enriched by the injection of Islamic ethos and values into our dealings.

JM: Can you please comment on the impact of media portrayal on public perception of young Muslims in southwest Sydney?

MK: Media portrayal in Australia has never been generous to our community, and I think the proof is in the pudding in that regard. However, the advent and advancement of social media as the primary choice of information for the next generation has meant that an entire generation of young Aussies are being exposed to a side of Islam and Muslims that they previously were deprived of due to the media’s insistence on only amplifying the voices of those amongst us who would seek to stoke the flames of division or otherwise depict an unsavoury picture.

There has no doubt been damage done by the media class’ portrayal of our people, but at the risk of sounding wantonly optimistic, the tide is turning.

JM: What legal reforms do you think are necessary to better protect the rights of protesters?

MK: Over the past few years Australia, and in particular NSW, has engaged in a legislative push which has attacked the rights of protestors and in general freedom of speech in NSW. While everyone agrees that protestors should never endanger themselves or others, the law must recognise that certain issues of public interest are of such salient significance that it offers protections to protestors simply trying to raise awareness and impact change on these issues. The genocide in Gaza is a prime example of where a public interest argument ought to outweigh things like a corporation’s right to operate free of intrusion or disruption on their private property.

This is an area where the courts could and should intervene to create common law defences for protestors who are targeted by police using and abusing minor summary offences to stifle and silence protest. This is a space that I’m privileged to be currently working with a number of lawyers on to hopefully result in a better legal framework with greater protection for all protestors.