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Sacrificing public freedoms for stability: And so the crackdown begins in Malaysia…

Updated On: Dec 14, 2007

Reminiscent of the events almost a decade ago when former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, and his supporters were censured after opposing then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed’s way of handling the Asian Financial Crisis and general governance, the incumbent PM Abdullah Badawi is showing his draconian side in the face of the current wave of protests surfacing in Malaysia over racial discrimination, political oppression and human rights.

Bearing no tolerance for supposed “trouble-makers” like his predecessor, the Badawi government has already cracked down on Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) leaders and those who participated in its mass protests about two weeks ago. On Tuesday (11 December), HINDRAF’s legal adviser P. Uthayakumar was arrested twice on the same day for an allegedly seditious letter posted on the internet as well as the petition to UK PM Gordon Brown.  Five other Indian activists from HINDRAF were detained under the internal security act.

The sphere of political intimidation by the government appears to be widening. On Tuesday, police arrested 29 people –including opposition members from Bersih, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and PAS –when they congregated at the Malaysian Parliament to petition against the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to extend Election Commission members’ retirement age from 65 to 66. According to Federal CID Deputy Director I Acryl Sani, they were arrested for “taking part in the illegal gathering, refusing to disperse and obstructing the police”. 

On the same day, former DPM Anwar Ibrahim was detained at the Kuala Lumpur airport upon his return from Istanbul and informed he was on a “suspect list”. He told the media that the manifestation of disproportionate force from the authorities showed that the Badawi leadership was on its last legs, thus in “the guise of preserving public safety… the authorities have increased their repressive tactics against Malaysian citizens and arrested key opposition figures and civil rights leaders”.

Even more ominously, UMNO Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein warned the public, “Don’t push the prime minister. He respects the stability and harmony of Malaysians irrespective of race, religion or colour. But we (the Government) will not hesitate to take drastic measures or use laws if the country’s stability is affected.”

However, others disagree with government’s stand. SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, is disappointed that the state continually ignores its advice to “repeal the law requiring permits for public assemblies and processions”. SUHAKAM chairman Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman said, “The possibility of public disorder should be based on evidence, not speculation or imagination. SUHAKAM wants [the law] repealed because it goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and appears to be inconsistent with the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

Malaysia’s actions have caught the attention of the United States. The US State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck told AFP that the US government deplored the crackdown and had called it to desist. However, Malaysia prickles at the suggestion it is a “police state”. Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar declared that “it was unfair of the United States to claim in its annual human rights report that the Malaysian government placed significant restrictions on the right to assemble peacefully”. He said, “The US writes reports on every country because they think they are the superpower.”Hamid Albar added, “What our police and other authorities have done is acceptable worldwide. They have been very cautious before taking action…public freedom does not mean chaos. Even the US government will not allow this to happen in America.”His parting shot to American interference was that Malaysia need not “over-react to US comments because they themselves have a lot of things in their backyard”, referring to the abominable human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay. Hamid Albar said that even the Indian government supported Malaysia, so the US had no business in Malaysia’s internal affairs.  (13 December 2007)

Sources:

Malaysia arrests ethnic Indian activists under security law (Straits Times interactive, 13 December 2007)

Malaysia rejects US criticism of protest crackdown: FM (AFP, 13 December 2007)

Syed Hamid: Strange for US to judge us (NST, 13 December 2007)

We are not a police state, says Malaysia minister (Reuters, 12 December 2007)

Hindraf leader nabbed, freed on bail, nabbed again over alleged sedition (Star, 12 December 2007)

29 nabbed at illegal gathering at Parliament House (Star, 12 December 2007)

Politicians and activists held (Star, 12 December 2007)

Don’t push the PM, Hisham warns people (Star, 12 December 2007)

Politicians and activists held (Star, 12 December 2007)

Suhakam: Allow permit-free rallies (Star, 12 December 2007)

Malaysia detains Anwar, arrests 20 at parliament protest (AFP, 11 December 2007)

Malaysia's leader says public freedoms can be sacrificed for stability's sake (AP, 10 December 2007)







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