Media reports of the disruption of the Article 11-Aliran forum on 14 May 2006 appeared confused and contradictory. Here’s an eyewitness account of the events that morning…
Police roadblocks had been set up on all roads leading to Cititel Hotel on Penang Road, about half a kilometre away from the State Police Contingent Headquarters along the same road. Some people managed to drive in; others had to park some distance away and walk to the hotel.
A small crowd of protestors was already beginning to gather outside the hotel. The police were already on standby, keeping the crowd on the opposite side of the road, facing the hotel. Police allowed people to walk into the hotel.
The organising team arrived and took a decision to carry on with the forum. Police said that it was all right to do so.
Registration material was transported to the hotel through the police roadblock with police permission. Protestors numbered around 150 at this stage. Riot police clambered out of a truck. Chanting and shouting of slogans had already begun. Protestors carried posters condemning the Interfaith Commission (IFC), linking the IFC to Zionism and saying that it threatened Islam. It was very clear that the protestors had incorrectly linked our Forum on the Federal Constitution to the IFC.
Registration of the participants commenced. Police attitude at this time was that we could proceed with the event and that they were here to provide security for us. The hotel’s general manager was present at this discussion and was aware that organisers were going to carry on. Registration was extended till 9.40 to allow for walk-in registrations as well as people who had been delayed because of the parking problems caused by the roadblocks.
More than a hundred police personnel had been deployed with senior state police officers present. The protestors numbered around 200. A small group of protestors tried to walk across the road together, but police blocked them.
Around this time, an OCPD advised the organisers to call off the forum. The police acknowledged that our forum was legal and that they were only offering us advice. But they said that the crowd outside could not be handled – “there were 600 protestors and only 200 policemen”. The police informed us that the protestors wanted the forum stopped and there was a serious danger that the protestors were about to storm the hotel. They implied that the safety of the participants was now at risk.
The organisers tried to negotiate for the forum to carry on for an hour but the police insisted on half an hour. The OCPD walked away, saying “10.15”.
The forum, held on Level 3 of the hotel, began at 9.45 am with some 230 participants. The proceedings were immediately disrupted by about 30-odd protestors who had initially been part of the protest outside but who had then entered the hotel and registered as walk-in participants. They used the mike at the back of the hall that had been prepared for Q & A and challenged the chair and the organisers.
After the initial disturbance was brushed aside, the speakers were each given five minutes to present a summarised version of their talk. In the meantime, downstairs in the hotel lobby, police were stopping people from heading to the forum on Level 3, saying that “registrations had closed” and asking for proof from pre-registered participants.
Protestors at the back of the hall began to say “time’s up”. When the fourth speaker, Zaid Ibrahim, came up to the rostrum to speak, the police entered the hall and insisted that the event should be brought to an end. The forum ended then. Only three of the five speakers had had a chance to speak. Neither Rama nor Zaid spoke. The protestors outside dispersed on hearing that the forum had stopped.
The organisers held a press conference with over 13 reporters. At this press conference, the speakers each had a chance to speak. Zaid had left by this time.
After the press conference, the organisers cleared up and prepared their own statement, which was then sent to the press later in the afternoon.
A bomb disposal unit arrived to check the hall and surrounding areas. Apparently, there had been a bomb threat.