DAP deplores police violation of the right to peaceful assembly and eleven arrests this morning and demands public inquiry into police response to peaceful protests

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): DAP deplores police violation of the right to peaceful assembly and eleven arrests this morning on the resumption of trial of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and demands their unconditional release of peaceful protestors.

I have received reports that the police were unnecessarily provocative and used excessive force this morning against peaceful protestors.

The police started arrests after giving two minutes to the peaceful protestors to disperse.  This is most ridiculous and DAP calls for a public inquiry to conduct an independent and impartial  investigation  into police responses to peaceful protests to ensure that the police are not allowed to be overly-aggressive  or use excessive force in such circumstances.

I am very disturbed by the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday on police responsibility to maintain law and order.

Abdullah said that maintaining law and order was not an easy task, especially when the police were accused of many wrongdoings.

He said: "Unfortunately, the police have also become victims in performing their duties.  When they are the victims there are not many comments, but if the enemy becomes the victim, there is much comment and dissastisfaction".

Police who are killed or seriously injured in the course of their duties to fight crime deserve the full support of society, and this is why the DAP had consistently, both inside and outside Parliament, called for the raising of salaries and improvement of working conditions of the police force, together with special compensatory provisions for member of the police force who sacrificed their lives to uphold law and order in the country.

But I am terribly shocked by Abdullahís statement that "but if the enemy becomes the victim, there is much comment and dissatisfaction".  Is Abdullah suggesting that innocent victims of police abuse of power, whether trigger-happy shooting or police brutality, are regarded as "enemy"?

Or this morningís 200-300 peaceful protestors.  Have the police been instructed to regard peaceful protestors as "enemy" to justify all forms of excessive force, provocative and aggressive conduct by the police?

This is most unacceptable for a decent civil society, especially as the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had recently conceded that peaceful protestors have an important role to play in the creation of an international civil society.

In his millennium message on December 31, 1999, Mahathir said that the NGO demonstrations against the WTO (World Trade Organisation) in Seattle had saved "another part of our border" from collapse under the relentless assaults of global capitalism and its shock troops.

I would have thought that after this public concession by the Prime Minister that  demonstrations have an important role in national or international civil society, there would be a softer approach on the part of the police in its  dealing with peaceful demonstrators in the country.

This morningís police action and arrests have shown the opposite, as  the police seems sending the message that it is  going to be more hardline than before the general election, even regarding the peaceful protestors as "enemy"!
I would call on the Cabinet tomorrow to issue a directive to the police to revoke such a new hardline approach against peaceful demonstrators, keeping in mind Mahathirís praise for the Seattle demonstrations at the WTO conference, Nov. 30 - Dec. 3, 1999 by  50,000 trade unionists and environmental activists from all over the world.

The police should never regard peaceful protestors and demonstrators as "enemy", should never be over-aggressive, provocative or use excessive force, and must learn to respect the right to peaceful assembly of Malaysians.

There has been considerable speculation as to why Mahathir has cancelled a one-week official visit to Switzerland, skipping the  annual World Economic Forum in Davos where he is scheduled to deliver a keynote address and participate in an inter-religious and inter-civilisational dialogue.

A government official source had denied that the cancellation was because Mahathir had fallen off  a horse when horse-riding in Argentina and suffered injuries, saying that it was another member of Mahathirís delegation who had fallen off a horse.

Mahathir should end all speculation and rumours by giving reasons  for his unusual cancellation of his Swiss engagements.  One good reason for Mahathirís cancellation is as a protest against the  undemocratic action of the Swiss authorities in banning all demonstrations against the World Economic Forum in Davos beginning on January 29, 2000 to prevent a repeat of the Seattle WTO demonstrations which shut down the WTO Conference altogether.

For the security of US President Bill  Clinton, thousands of  policemen, private security guards and military will transform the little place in the swiss mountains
into a high security area.

Let Mahathir tell the world that he is boycotting the Davos World Economic Forum in protest against the Swiss denial of the fundamental right to peaceful protests planned as a sequel to the WTO Seattle demonstrations by NGOs against the ugly face of global capitalism.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman