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Hindraf and freedom of assembly

“We don’t want to use force, but they are hoping we will do so as they want to exploit the situation by painting a bad picture of Malaysia through the international television channels.”

“We do not want to be hard on them but they are hoping the police will use violence against them and it will be good stuff for the international media to exploit.”

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) rally in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 27 Feb 2011. The march was themed Solidarity against Umno’s racism. The planned march was in protest against the government’s decision to ignore the Indian Malaysian community’s objections over the contents of Interlok, a novel which is part of the Form Five syllabus for Malay-language literature.

The prime minister claimed Hindraf was deliberately creating bad publicity for the country through the international media by holding the demonstration at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) grounds. He said the government had already resolved many of the Indian Malaysian community’s issues, so “why the need for a demonstration? And why at KLCC?” (Sources: Najib: Hindraf has “malicious intent”, theSun, 27 Feb 2011; Hindraf demonstrators deliberately pushing for bad publicity, says Najib, The Star, 28 Feb 2011)

“If they act outside the law and disregard regulations, holding rallies and the like … stern action should be taken.”

Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on 24 Feb 2011 calling for police to take stern action against the rally’s organisers. Later, the deputy prime minister commented on the low turnout at the protest, saying this indicated that the Indian Malaysian community trusted the Barisan Nasional government to protect their rights. (Source: DPM wants firm action against Hindraf’s Sunday rally, The Malaysian Insider, 24 Feb 2011)

“The public must realise that certain parties will try to manipulate this issue and equate the Hindraf rally with the uprisings in Libya and Egypt.

“This is not true and, in fact, the number of people detained at the rally is significantly smaller than expected, indicating that support is not as strong as it used to be.”

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, commenting on the arrests of 109 protesters during the 27 Feb 2011 rally. Hishammuddin said the rally was against the law because Hindraf had not obtained a permit to hold the gathering. He added that the protesters were a “nuisance to public order”, and that police were only doing their job by detaining them. According to police estimates, fewer than 500 people took part in the rally. (Source: Hisham: Protesters are a nuisance, New Straits Times, 28 Feb 2011)

“Certain parties are willing to do anything just to sensationalise issues.”

“My congratulations to the Inspector-General of Police and the force for derailing plans by those out to create chaos and that we rough them up.”

Hishammuddin again. On allegations that the detained Hindraf members were mistreated, he said the accusations were just an attempt to tarnish the image of the police. (Source: Police have video footage to prove Hindraf members not mistreated,, 1 March 2011)

“But as some anti-Interlok activists have not been averse to burning books in the tradition of the Nazis, they are closer to being closet fascists rather than the proponents of free speech that they are imagined to be. Indeed, removing the novel from the classroom in the name of anti-racism seems to be a pretext to insist that others conform to their narrow worldview and parochial prejudices.”

Op-ed in the New Straits Times. The newspaper said while the arrests of the Hindraf protesters might be viewed as further proof that freedom of expression was denied, those who sought to ban the novel Interlok “are at liberty to make highbrow political pronouncements, assume the moral high ground and portray themselves as heroic dissidents against repressive rule”, and were “aggravating racial tensions by finding racism where there is none”.

The newspaper also claimed the word “pariah” in the book was not used in a derogatory way. It suggested that such controversial material remained in the classroom so that students could engage in critical inquiry and real-world issues. (Source: Misguided protests, New Straits Times, 28 Feb 2011)

“Although the number of protesters is not big, it will create an impression to tourists that there is a lot of conflict in the country.

“If we’re a civil society, then we should learn to air our problems in a civil manner.”

Chan Su Ling, 22, a student from Subang Jaya, commenting on the Hindraf protest in a report on the “inconvenience” caused by the rally. (Source: Roadblocks, traffic jams spoil weekend for KL folk, New Straits Times, 28 Feb 2011)

“We’ve had so many rallies in the city and they’ve done nothing but create traffic jams. It’s bad enough that we have to brave jams on weekdays. Please don’t do this on weekends, too.”

Lydia Teh, 26, from Ampang when asked to comment about the Hindraf rally. She told the New Straits Times that she had to take a train into the city rather than drive. “I had planned to shop for things for my new house and it will be impossible to carry them all by myself on the train. So I will have to take a taxi later, which is also a hassle in itself,” she added. (Source: Roadblocks, traffic jams spoil weekend for KL folk, New Straits Times, 28 Feb 2011)

“(a) every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms”

Article 10 of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution. (Source: Federal Constitution of Malaysia)

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Source: Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

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2 Responses to “Hindraf and freedom of assembly”

  1. JW Tan says:

    There is a presumption in Malaysia that disagreement implies disrespect, and it stems from our Asian custom of respect for authority. Custom often has greater force than law, and so it is here.

    Like so many things that people do from force of habit, it doesn’t make sense when one really considers it. Surely disagreement, whether or not it comes in the form of protest, is better than apathy?

    I suppose in the warped world of Malaysian politics the BN government prefers apathy over engagement. It’s easier to enrich oneself when the people you are taking wealth from don’t even bother to look up when you take it away.

  2. Parveen says:

    Very informative. Well done and thank you>

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