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Demonising demonstrations

“Demonstrations are done out of desperation and selfishness. The majority of the people are uneasy with such action …The majority of the people are rational and want important and basic matters to be made a priority by the government.”

HOME Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, calling the 1 Aug 2009 anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) protest a failure for not achieving its target of 100,000 marchers. He said the lower turnout, estimated to be around 20,000, showed that the majority of Malaysians disliked “street politics”. Hishammuddin also said people were prepared to be led by an “authoritative government” in times of economic difficulty. (Source: Hisham: Rally a failure, shows street politics not favoured, The Star, 5 Aug 2009)

While Malaysia’s Police Act deems gatherings illegal without police permits, the fact is, peaceful assembly is a freedom guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In refusing to recognise this right, the government discredits demonstrations, often by saying that protests will thwart businesses and jeopardise the economy. Economists, however, have noted that economic progress takes place in tandem with greater democratisation.

“Anak-anak muda yang mengambil bahagian ini secara sinis mengatakan mereka terima upah untuk berarak. Ini agak mengejutkan pihak penganjur kerana mungkin tidak menyangka rahsia mereka akhirnya bocor juga.”

Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, citing “sources” who said some of the marchers were paid. He did not provide evidence of his claims. (Source: Peserta demo diupah?, Utusan Malaysia, 3 Aug 2009)

However, his allegation was taken up by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak the following day, who directed police to investigate the alleged payments and the motive behind the demonstration.

“Demonstrations will not solve anything. I have said from the beginning since I took over the leadership that the ISA will be reviewed. We are currently in the process of doing so …The ISA should not be politicised.”

Prime Minister Najib, speaking two days before the 1 Aug protest. He also said the demonstration would be pointless in view of the current ISA review, and that people should give “opinions, suggestions and concrete ideas” on how to improve the Act instead of protesting. (Source: Demos pointless, ISA already under review: PM, The Star, 31 July 2009)

However, political supression is exactly the complaint about the ISA’s use. As for inviting public opinions and suggestions, proposals by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) on repealing the ISA and replacing it with a specific anti-terrorism act were made as far back as 2003. Similar proposals have been made by Barisan Nasional component parties MCA and Gerakan.

“The police are now handling the matter. They can take whatever action they see fit [against the organisers of the rally], but some people want to provoke the police to ensure they are detained under the ISA. Then they can say, ‘See, I told you’ …

“We have the Parliament … There are various avenues to air grouses, but demonstration is certainly not one of them.”

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, on Parliament being the right place to protest, instead of employing open demonstrations. He said the 1 Aug rally was therefore “politically motivated” and was aimed at provoking the police to use the ISA on protesters. (Source: Muhyiddin: Anti-ISA rally a political ploy, Bernama as cited in The Nut Graph, 4 Aug 2009)

“The suit is not just an action against those involved in Saturday’s protest, but also a warning to anyone who may be planning one in the future that they will have to be accountable for the problems their actions cause to the general public.”

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk T Murugiah, who is also in charge of the Public Complaints Bureau, which will file a civil suit against organisers of the 1 Aug rally. The suit is on behalf of the business community affected by the protest.

Murugiah said he was inspired by a story he read about businesspeople in Seoul, South Korea, who sued organisers of a protest for losses suffered. He said the Lorong Tuanku Abdul Rahman Businessmen and Traders Association had estimated their losses to be about RM500,000. (Source: Businesses seek compensation from organisers of anti-ISA demonstration, The Star, 6 Aug 2009)

Stories on the economic cost of the demonstration were widely carried by most daily newspapers. In reply, the Wanita chiefs of the three Pakatan Rakyat parties pointed out in a statement that public transport operators, shops and eateries that were patronised by protesters actually had improved business for the day. Favicon

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One Response to “Demonising demonstrations”

  1. S.S.Seelan says:

    These politicians never cease to amaze me. If they can’t get the message when 20,000 people (the politicians’ estimate) are on the streets, when will they ever get the message? When the Malayan Union was bandied about by Datuk Onn, did not Umno take to the streets? Or as someone wryly commented, “Kalau tak demo, kita masih bawa Mat Salleh lah”!

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