Appalled by suppression of peaceful protests

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In an open letter to the government, Angeline Loh expresses alarm at the recent heavy-handed suppression of the right to freedom of assembly and to freedom of expression.

OPEN LETTER TO THE GOVERNMENT

Dear Prime Minister and Cabinet
Ministers of the Malaysian Government,

Aliran Kesedaran Negara would like to
directly express to you how appalled and alarmed we are at the recent
actions of the police in the name of the government in efforts to
suppress peaceful protests that are seen to be human rights
violations. The protests are related to protracted problems within
the country that have caused much hardship and discontent amongst the
‘rakyat’.

Honourable PM, you justified these
actions in a statement on 11 December 2007 when you said, “If the
choice is between public safety and public freedoms, I do not
hesitate to say that public safety will win. My responsibility is to
the greater public, especially in the face of police intelligence
about planned violent intent.”

We appreciate that if the situation of
alleged threatened violence were a reality, curbs on particular
recognised human rights may be permitted (although doubtfully as a last resort)
even under international law. Yet, in contrast, the recent protest
marches held by organisations advocating human rights, good
governance, fair and free elections, and just treatment of ethnic
minorities in Malaysia, have to all intents and purposes been
generally peaceful without any indication of violent intent or
incitement of such intent.

The only tangible violence we have
witnessed – which has been reported by national and international
media – originated and commenced from the ranks of riot
police present at these events in large numbers. Tear gas and
water cannons are instruments of police crowd control; the power to
arrest is a police power.

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So far, we have only seen reports in
the mainstream media of police allegations of attempted murder during
one protest outside Kuala Lumpur City. We have also read of
allegations of groups soliciting the assistance of overseas terrorist
organizations but have so far seen no full and concrete information
for public safety.

Moreover, we have not seen any promise
by the government to look into and alleviate the problems a large
number of people appear to be concerned about. Instead, the
government through the police has sent out negative signals in
effecting arrests of individuals the Barisan Nasional government sees
as threats to national security.

Aliran expresses utter disappointment,
that the government persists in turning a deaf ear to the obviously
disturbing problems in the country. In response to the request to be
heard by civil society, the authorities have launched heavy-handed
crackdowns on particular organisations and individuals that are
involved in trying reasonably to present their case in the form of
memoranda to the government and other relevant authorities.

We also ask the government what threat
the “Peoples’ Freedom Walk” on the eve of International Human
Rights Day (10 December 2007) by lawyers exercising their basic human
right to free expression and assembly posed to the nation at large.

Further, why was Bar Council human
rights committee chief Edmund Bon arrested merely for protesting
against the removal of banners on the Bar Council’s private
property and charged with obstructing Municipal Council officers?
Surely this is an over-reaction by Municipal Council officers and
police. Being one person confronted by a team of “Perbandaran”
officers, he could not physically do much to prevent them from
carrying out their task, even though they were trespassing on private
property.

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It is alarming that the BN government
has acted against and denied the exercise of human rights during the
commemoration of the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. This incident is even more historically significant
having occurred on the eve of International Human Rights Day when
human rights should have been celebrated and upheld.

We urge the government to review its
current repressive actions in attempting to silence dissent through
the denial of the exercise of basic human rights and fundamental
freedoms in order to restore the confidence of the public and
safeguard them from violence committed by those who should be
protecting the public.

In contrast to so many other countries
where peaceful protests on various issues have taken place without a
heavy police presence and without incidences of violence, the actions
of the Malaysian Police have alarmed many, both locally and
internationally, especially because the recent protest was in fact
peaceful. It is also internationally embarrassing for Malaysia as an
elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council to violate
basic human rights and fundamental freedoms without hesitation or
consideration of the real situation.

In the light of this, Aliran calls upon the
government of Malaysia to release all those unjustly detained for
exercising their basic human rights and fundamental freedom of
expression, political opinion and right to assembly under the Federal
Constitution and international human rights law. We urge that all
charges brought by the Attorney-General against these persons be
dropped and those detained under the ISA be released or charged in court.

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We also call upon the government to
honour its human rights obligations as a member state of the United
Nations and to show itself worthy of its seat on the UN Human Rights
Council.

Angeline Loh

Executive Committee member.

14 December 2007

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