A forum “Federal Constitution: Protection For All”, jointly organised by Aliran and Article 11 Coalition, was disrupted byan unruly crowd of demonstratorsin Penang this morning. The event, scheduled to run from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm at the Cititel Hotel along Penang Road, was unexpectedly cut short to only an hour’s duration.
As a result, only three of the five speakers, AWAM Executive Director Honey Tan, constitutional lawyer Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi and HAKAM Deputy President Malik Imtiaz were able to speak, each only for about five minutes instead of the planned 15 minutes. Two other speakers, Aliran President P Ramakrishnan and Kota Bahru Member of Parliament Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, were denied their right to speak. Also cancelled was a scheduled Q and A session.
The forum, which would have highlighted the supremacy of the Federal Constitution, discussed the emerging conflict in legal jurisdictions between civil law and the syariah, as exemplified in several recent court cases. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to address these critical issues confronting our beloved country.
Aliran deeply regrets that the opportunity to do so in a peaceful and constructive manner did not materialise.
At about 7.45 am, a crowd began gathering in front of the hotel carrying placards and shouting slogans. By 9.30 am, the crowd had swelled to about 200 people. Inexplicably, the chants and the placards were directed against the formation of the Inter Faith Commission, which was completely unrelated to today’s forum focusing on the Federal Constitution.
Police were out in numbers and all approach roads near the hotel were cordoned off to traffic, inconveniencing people who had registered to attend the forum. Not to be deterred, about 250 people showed up for the forum.
According to the police, the forum had to be cut short or cancelled because they felt they might not have been able to control the crowd, which they claimed was threatening to storm the hotel. The demonstrators had wanted the meeting called off.
In fact, some of the demonstrators joined the forum, where they further heckled and disrupted the meeting indoors, despite appeals by the chair that the panelists be allowed to speak. We regret that this group of demonstrators was unable to respect the right of free expression of their fellow Malaysians. Rights, we believe, come with responsibilities. This forum, focusing on our constitutional rights, would have been a learning experience for the demonstrators had they chosen to participate in the forum, which was open to all.
Aliran is not deterred by today’s incident. We respect the freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression accorded to all, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
But we strongly oppose threatening and unruly behaviour, which prevents other Malaysians from gathering and discussing issues. We will continue to organise such forums for thinking Malaysians.
Aliran Executive Committee
14 May 2006