Sin Chew Jit Poh in a front-page report quoted the Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Chor Chee Heung as confirming the blanket ban by the police on ceramahs by all political parties, claiming that the ban was “temporary” and would not affect the ongoing campaignings for the Likas by-election in Sabah.
I am vividly reminded of a similar assurance given by the police when it “temporarily” banned public rallies on 5th June 1978, with the then Inspector-General of Police Haniff Omar calling on the police to “maintain maximum vigilance from now until Merdeka Day on August 31” because of the possibility of violent incidents on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Communist Party of Malaya on June 20.
The real reason for the “temporary” ban on public rallies was not security but political - as the Barisan Nasional had then decided to hold general elections.
Parliament was dissolved on 12th June 1978 and nomination and polling for the general elections were held on 21st June and 8th July 1978 respectively.
From 5th June to Merdeka Day on August 31st, 1978 there was not a single incident in connection with the 30th anniversary of the CPM, but this did not stop the police from converting the “temporary” ban on public rallies into a permanent one, now lasting 23 years, although the CPM had ended its armed struggle in 1990!
The Barisan Nasional government and the police are up to the same gambit once again, as the “temporary” freeze on the issue of police permits for all political ceramahs “in order to check on activities which may undermine national security” is spurious and a mere excuse to serve the Barisan Nasional political interests to clamp down on freedom of assembly and expression.
It will also become either “permanently temporary” or “temporarily permanent”!
Chor said that the Home Ministry had approved the police recommendation for a “temporary” freeze on the issue of permits for all political ceramahs.
What is most surprising is that the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is unaware of such a Home Ministry approval, as evident from The Star report from Kota Kinabalu quoting him as saying that he was not aware of any circular to stop political ceramahs except those connected with elections.
Although Abdullah said that he expected the police to issue a statement on the matter, he said: “As far as I am concerned, I have not come across it or heard about it” - raising anew the question as to who is the de facto Home Minister!
In the 21st century and third decade of Mahathir administration, is the Malaysian government going to show greater respect for human rights and democratic freedoms or is there going to be a lurch towards greater authoritarian rule, where limited freedoms and liberties still enjoyed by Malaysians would also be taken away?
The latter will be a great tragedy for Malaysia, making not only a mockery of the Constitutional and Rukunegara commitments to maintain a democratic way of life in Malaysia, but destroys the Vision 2020 objective of creating a fully developed Bangsa Malaysia.
Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had himself declared that there can be no fully developed Malaysia until the country had overcome nine central strategic challenges, one of which is fostering and developing a mature democratic society.
Unfortunately, Malaysia in 2001 is moving in the opposite direction,
clamping down on whatever limited human rights and democratic liberties
still allowed to Malaysians - and all this taking place one year after
the establishment of the Human Rights Commission mandated by Parliament
to protect and promote human rights!
There can be no justification on any security ground for the blanket ban on political ceramahs, as every political party wants its ceramahs to be held peacefully and without incidents.
National security is not the sole concern of the police, as the DAP
and all parties in the Barisan Alternative are equally committed to upholding
of national security - but we cannot agree with any equation of the political
security of the Barisan Nasional or its leaders with national security.
DAP calls on the police to lift the blanket ban on political ceramahs and the convening of an all-party conference together with police and Suhakam to work out ground rules to ensure respect for freedoms of assembly and expression as well as to uphold national security.