Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is this the Malaysian islamist way, PM Badawi -- with no freedom to walk?

The hunt for subversives: Malaysian Government arrest Bersih, Hindraf activists and lawyers

December 18, 2007


Last week the authorities hand their hands full with lawyers, Bersih, Hindraf and human rights activists and various other “inconveniences” to the government.

Dec. 9 was certainly a busy Sunday with a group of lawyers proceeding with their “People’s Freedom Walk” from the Sogo department store to the Malaysian Bar building where the Bar Council was celebrating International Human Rights Day, a day earlier than the rest of the world.

The march of about a hundred people proceeded for a distance under the watchful eyes of the police including two helicopters.

Earlier in the week, the Bar Council had decided to call off their annual human rights march in good faith, after being pressured by the authorities to obtain a police permit. They were even told to apply for a permit to hold their annual human rights festival at Central Market. The Bar Council nevertheless moved their celebrations to their own building, just behind Central Market. It was a compromise.

The Malaysian Bar council held a protest to celebrate the International Human Rights Day. (See photo)

The Bar Council did not expect the following response.

That morning, eight people - including four lawyers - were arrested for participating in an illegal assembly and failing to adhere to police orders to disperse.

The Bar Council’s human rights committee chairman Edmund Bon was also arrested that day and charged with obstructing a Kuala Lumpur City Hall officer from removing a banner in front of the Bar Council building at around 12 p.m. The banners were displayed on their own premises, nothing seditious about it, just things like “No to corruption” and “Rakyat hakim negara (People are the judge of the country).”
Elsewhere on Sunday, 14 people were nabbed for their involvement in the Bersih rally for electoral reform on November 10, including Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) information chief Tian Chua and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) vice president Mohamad Sabu. They were arrested in Johor and Perak respectively. Mat Sabu was arrested in Ipoh where he was attending his daughter’s wedding.

The 14 were arrested under the Police Act for participating in an illegal assembly.
So, we in Malaysia celebrated International Human Rights Day on Sunday with unnecessary crackdown of the opposition and human rights activists. How embarrassing. What good is our right to speak out if we need police permits to exercise it?

On Dec. 11, the coalition for clean and fair elections, Bersih, again found itself in trouble when its leaders defied a court order preventing them from gathering at the parliament.

Bersih delegates attempted to submit a memorandum opposing what is termed the “Rashid Bill,” a constitutional amendment to extend the retirement age of Election Commission members from 65 to 66.

The six civil society leaders arrested at the parliament car park were Pusat Komas programme director Mien Lor, Suaram executive director Yap Swee Seng, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Executive Director V. Gayathry, Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) Chairperson Wong Chin Huat, PAS Research Centre director Dr. Dzulkifli Ahmad and Harakah advertising manager Mokhtar Rosaidi. They were released without charge.

This occasion saw a total of 26 Bersih members being arrested by police, including Tian Chua who was dragged out of his car for failing to stop at a police roadblock.
Nevertheless, two thirds of our Dewan Rakyat approved the amendment to Article 114 of the Federal Constitution thus extending the tenure of the current Election Commission Chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman. This prompted 16 of the 19 opposition parliamentarians from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and PAS to walk out of the parliament in protest.

Was it a coincidence that PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim was stopped at KLIA when returning from Turkey on Tuesday morning? No, nothing is ever a coincidence in this country. One question: What is this “suspect list” that Anwar Ibrahim’s name was supposedly on?

Perhaps the biggest shocker of the week came on Thursday, Dec. 13 when five Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leaders were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Hindraf legal adviser P. Uthayakumar and lawyers P. M. Manoharan, R. Kenghadharan, V. Ganabatirau and organising secretary, T. Vasantha Kumar were arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Seremban by special branch officers.

The five were taken directly to the Kamunting detention centre in Perak, where they will be detained for two years. They will not face the usual 60-day investigation period.

Perhaps it’s wrong to call the ISA arrests “shocking.” P. Uthayakumar was not surprised, he knew what he was getting into. The government had continuously warned that stern action, including the ISA, would be taken against those branded as “traitors” and “terrorists,” who have supposedly tarnished the country’s image and caused racial disharmony.

The government delivered their promise - the dreadful Internal Security Act. This is one of the times where I wish they didn’t keep promises so faithfully.

Protests and street demonstrations are not the Malaysian way, said the prime minister at this year’s UMNO general assembly.

So does the “Malaysian way” condone detention without trial, arbitrary arrests, tear gas, water cannons, violence and lies? Is this the new Malaysian way of addressing grievances by the public? It is unfortunate that our government cannot find more mature ways of dealing with issues. They prefer to hide behind feel good surveys and continuously reassert the “mandate” given to them by the rakyat.

The prime minister’s credit, he has found the time to receive a memorandum from Damai Malaysia, a dubious coalition of 395 non-governmental organisations condemning street demonstrations and supporting action against protesters. He is happy to know that the silent majority of Malaysians are peace-loving, loyal subjects.

Lots of people are confused. Who is Damai Malaysia? Nevermind who these people are. How dare they claim to speak for the majority?

But I guess, this is how it goes. If the silent majority doesn’t speak up, somebody will do it for them.


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