Respect freedom of expression of all

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Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) is deeply concerned that the forum Federal Constitution: Protection for All which was jointly organized by Aliran and Article 11 Coalition on 14 May 2006 in Penang, was forced to end its programme abruptly after disruption by a group of unruly demonstrators.

SUARAM respects everyone’s rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly to voice out his or her concerns on certain issues. This right should be exercised consistently with the rights of others to similarly hold opinions and beliefs, in addition to expressing the same.

The forum was organised in this spirit in a closed-setting for everyone to learn about, disseminate and discuss matters relevant to all sectors of society. The forum was opened to the public and the demonstrators could have attended the forum and expressed their views and engaged in the debate of the issues. They would have found that the forum had nothing at all to do with the Inter Faith Council (IFC), which seems to be the main contention of the demonstrators.

It is therefore rather unfortunate that the demonstrators chose to stage a demonstration that resulted in the forum being not able to proceed as planned. This is a setback to the spirit of open and democratic dialogue in civil society.

SUARAM also questions the conduct of the police in handling the incident. The police should have allowed the forum to proceed as planned and at the same time, ensured that the demonstration was peaceful and did not disrupt the forum. If some of the demonstrators had become unruly, it was the duty of the police to take action against the demonstrators instead of stopping the forum.

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SUARAM is of the view that any conflict and issue confronting society can only be resolved through democratic dialogue with mutual respect among members of civil society. SUARAM strongly opposes threats of violence, from any party or authority aimed at intimidating others from participating on a democratic platform and exchanging views.

We should use our freedom to promote others, not to subjugate others.

Suaram Secretariat
17 May 2006

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