(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): I have written to the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor asking for a meeting. In my letter, I told the Inspector-General of Police that the police disruption of "The Gathering of Legal Eagles" at the Banquet Hall, Federal Hotel on Sunday, 31st May 1998 and the unnecessary display of police force has raised considerable public disquiet about the proper role of the police in the Malaysian civil society.
I said that DAP leaders would like to have a meeting with the Inspector-General
of Police to discuss issues concerning freedom of speech and assembly
as it would be most unfortunate if Malaysia gives the world the impression
that the country is increasingly becoming a police state.
Since then, there had been two other incidents of high-handed and undemocratic action against civil liberties and democratic freedoms of Malaysians - refusing to approve a permit for a Sympathy, Support and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng Forum in Pantai Kundor last night and the withdrawal of the police permit issued for the FOMCA forum on the water shortage crisis in Kuala Lumpur tonight.
Last night, the panellists who turned up for the Sympathy, Support and Solidarity with Lim Guan Eng Forum at Pantai Kundor, Malacca signed a Pantai Kundor Declaration srongly protesting against the police refusal to grant a permit for the forum to discuss justice, freedom, democracy and good governance without giving any reason whatsoever although application for the permit was submitted by the Malacca DAP on 22nd May 1998..
The Pantai Kundor Declaration, was signed by Partai Rakyat secretary-general, Dr. Sanusi Othman, PAS Member of Parliament Mohamad Sabu, Socialist Party of Malaysia protem chairman, Dr. Mohamad Nasir, DAP National Chairman, Dr. Chen Man Hin, DAP Vice Chairman Ahmad Nor, DAP Deputy Secretaries -General, Lim Guan Eng and Abdul Muluk Daud, and myself.
The Pantai Kundor Declaration, among other things, said:
"The high-handed undemocratic police actions in banning public forums whether on the Lim Guan Eng case, justice, freedom, democracy, good governance or the water crisis have made Malaysia a laughing stock in the world and we call on the Royal Malaysian Police to uphold its integrity, independence and impartiality to protect a democratic Malaysia and not to allow itself to be an instrument to strike at the people’s aspirations for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
"We on our part not only renew our commitment to the cause of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance but resolve in the face of the ominous signs of the country moving towards a police state, to unite and treble our efforts to spread the message of justice, freedom, democracy and good goverance to all parts of the country, whether rural or urban, East or West Malaysia, and to enlist the support of all Malaysians, whether Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans or Kadazans."
Malaysia seems to be at a very dangerous juncture of its political development. In October 1987, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad returned from an overseas conference and ordered a crackdown against the civil liberties and democratic freedoms of Malaysians, involving 106 detentions under the Internal Security Act, the closure of three newspapers, the enactment of even more draconian laws stifling the fundamental liberties of the people and the worst crisis of confidence in the judiciary in Malaysian history.
Is Mahathir seriously thinking of another major crackdown, marking another new dark age for Malaysia in terms of civil liberties and democratic freedoms because he had not been able to do the things he wanted to do during the economic crisis, as massive bail-outs of certain companies and individuals at public expense, whether public funds or the interests of minority shareholders? Are the latest series of high-handed and undemocratic police actions stifling freedoms of speech and assembly an earnest of another Operation Lalang in the nineties?
The time has come for all Malaysians, regardless of party, race or faith, to speak up loud and clear against crackdowns against civil liberties and democratic freedoms.
HAKAM, Suaram and Aliran have been in the forefront to speak up against another retrogression of our fundamental liberties to serve the interests of certain individuals and segments of society during the economic crisis.
The President of HAKAM, Ramdas Tikamdas, said in a statement on 2nd
June that the police disruption of the "Gathering of Legal Eagles" at the
Federal Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday is "
an issue of fundamental constitutional importance relating to the freedom of speech and the right of assembly." Ramdas said:
"Why was it necessary for a peaceful assembly in a closed hall in a hotel to be met with such flagrant coercive show of police force with full FRU gear, batons, police shields and police trucks as if there was an imminent breakdown of law and order when all that was sought to be done was to discuss and debate on basic and fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed under the Constitution?
"These issues have been the subject of Resolutions by the European Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union and have been widely publicised by international human rights organisations and the international press. It cannot be right for the Police to stop public-spirited citizens in this country from discussing them."
"The actions of the police clearly shows that whatever basic human rights that are granted by the Federal Constitution to the citizens of Malaysia, are only superficial…
"SUARAM is very concerned that the fundamental liberties of the People of Malaysia are slowly but steadily being eroded by the government of Malaysia. At the rate things are going, it is not implausible that by the year 2020, the year by which Malaysia is to achieve a fully developed nation status, Malaysians will no longer have any basic human rights that are genuinely protected by law. SUARAM is especially concerned because the government is systematically, but in a very subtle manner, encroaching on the rights of the People of Malaysia, without the latter noticing it. "
ALIRAN President, P. Ramakrishnan, in a statement of 2nd June
"In any case, why shouldn’t it be possible for concerned citizens to meet peacefully to discuss issues of importance to them? What kind of democracy are we if citizens don’t have the right to gather peacefully behind closed doors, without being a nuisance to others, without disturbing the peace, without infringing upon the rights of others?
"We bemoan the fact that our youths are uncritical and incapable of thinking. How can we ever hope to produce discerning citizens in a sterile environment that does not allow discussion and debate? Indeed, how are we to bring about a ‘mature democracy’, which is one of the goals contained in Vision 2020?
"Mouthing platitudes will not create a civil society; neither will it convince people that ours is a vibrant democracy. A thriving democracy does not curtail the freedom of association neither does it curb peaceful debate and discussion. "