Malaysia: Barricades greet anti-ISA vigils, 36 arrested

By Lee Way Loon and Hazlan Zakaria

August 1, 2010 -- Malaysiakini -- Riot police barred activists from holding candlelight vigils to commemorate the Internal Security Act's 50th anniversary in eight places around the country.

At Dataran MBPJ, Padang Timur in Petaling Jaya, Selangor -- which saw the earliest vigil begin at 8pm -- members of the police Light Strike Force (LSF) began dispersing the 300-strong crowd just as the latter began singing while marching from the mall, through the adjacent car park and towards the field across the main road.

As they approached the field, they were confronted by a wall of LSF shields wielded by about 30 riot police, backed by another 50 uniformed police.

The officer in charge informed them that their gathering was illegal and told them to disperse. When the activists refused, the LSF rushed into the group and pushed them back as police personnel from other sides began arresting the activists.

Police officers chasing the protesters out of the Dataran amid the activists' shouts of "Hidup, hidup! Hidup rakyat!”, as other personnel formed a line to block more protesters from entering the square.

At least five people were arrested immediately, including Abolish the ISA movement (GMI) chief Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) secretary-general S Arutchelvan and PKR supreme council member Badrul Hisham Shaharin.

The activists then retreated to the car park and enterd Amcorp Mall, as the LSF and other police formed a cordon in front of the mall entrance as they arrested those dressed in red -- the "official" colour for the vigil -- and wearing "Abolish ISA" badges.

Several activists were arrested as they tried to break out of the police cordon.

Siti Kasim (right) from the Bar Council said this was the first time she had seen the police act with such violence, to the extent of arresting people even as they entered the nearby Amcorp shopping mall.

"This is very bad. Very violent and unacceptable. We are shocked", she told reporters.

Human rights group Suaram's director Kua Kia Soong also expressed shock and condemned the violence by the police.

"It's disgusting. This possibly could have been a peaceful vigil. What is the aim of the police (doing this)? It's going to make Malaysia more like a police state.

"Today is a very important day. Laws like the ISA only exist in very few countries nowadays. This law allows the authorities to detain people without trial. It's very shameful, and for the police to behave like this, makes Malaysia even more shameful."

"This is the first time I saw the police rushing and breaking the peace in shopping mall. This is very bad for business", said Kua.

Other than Ibrahim, Arutchelvan and Badrul Hisham, the other individuals arrested and brought to the Petaling Jaya district police station included Suresh Kumar, Mohd Fiqtriey, Naqiuddin Sahar, Albert Ang Yik Chuan, Yew Hun Ng, Ng Yap Hwa, Tsuing Han See, Enalini Elumalai, Mien Lor, Thilaga Sokiapillay, Kohila Y, Bawani K, Parames E, Sivaranjani, Lee Wei Ni, E Sarawanen, Xavier Sim Yoon Han, Aiman Siew Teck Meng, Sheikh Omar, Lim Jian Xin, Muhd Firdaus Khalid, Abdul Aziz Mohammad Ahmad and Rozan Azen Mat Rasip.

By around 9:15pm, the police had stopped the dispersal and arrests.

As the police transport trucks rolled out of the area, those activists inside the trucks could be heard chanting "Hidup, hidup!", "Mansuh ISA!" and "Polis ganas!"

At a press conference held shortly after, Petaling Jaya police chief Arjunaidi Mohamed (left) said the organisers did not obtain a permit for tonight's gathering.

The police chief said further that the organisers had claimed to have been issued a permit from the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), "But MBPJ is not the authority authorised to issue such permits. They, with their legal knowledge, should know this very well." He went on to defend the police action on the basis of the protesters' defiance of police orders to disperse.

"We asked them to disperse, but they refused and went into Amcorp Mall. When they came out, they scolded the police and challenged us, so we made the arrests", said Arjunaidi. He revealed that a total of 25 adults -- six women and 19 men -- were arrested for illegal assembly. Though there were children in the gathering, none were arrested, said Arjunaidi.

Selangor CPO Khalid Abu Bakar later said that the police arrested 30 people in Petaling Jaya in total -- eight women and 22 men.

It was only at 3am that those arrested were released -- one by one -- under bail. They were ordered to report back to Petaling Jaya district police headquarters on August 16.

In Ipoh, Perak, similarly, dozens of police officers had cordoned off the Dataran Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh and protesters were barred from entering the venue. About 200 people, nevertheless, participated in a 30-minute vigil which concluded without incident.

In Penang, the police had earlier today posted notices -- signed by Georgetown OCPD Asst Comm Gan Kong Meng -- around the Speaker's Square in Georgetown warning against any illegal gathering in the area.

Even before the vigil began at 9pm, two activists -- Choo Choon Kai and Kris Khaira from the PSM -- were arrested.

By 8.50pm, Georgetown district police chief Gan Kong Meng asked the crowd -- numbering around 100 as opposed to the 180 police personnel who had been mobilised -- to "disperse in five minutes". At the same time, about 10 persons suddenly appeared claiming to represent "those who support the ISA".

Two more activists -- lawyer Darshan Singh and Ong Jing Cheng of Suaram -- were subsequently taken by the police to Jelutong district police station. All four activists were released a little after midnight under police bail after their statements were recorded. They have been directed to report back to the Jelutong police station on 14 August 2010.

Lau Shu Shi of Suaram was also taken into custody after a warrant was served on her, but this was said to be over an earlier case.

Earlier, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said although this was a sad day as the ISA had been existance for 50 years, he hoped it would remind the people about the importance of freedom.

“In Malaysia, there is freedom of speech, but no freedom after speech”, he said.

The Democratic Action Party leader also said Penang has tried to broaden the space for freedom of speech by having the Speakers' Square at the Esplanade, which is a tourist spot.

“It is very successful. So far, no untoward incident has happened. It shows that Malaysians can exercise freedom of speech and able to reject extremism”, he told a press conference after launching a DAP fundraising event in the morning. He said he was not making these comments as a former ISA detainee, but as an "an activist for freedom and democracy". “The ISA is anti-freedom, and together with other laws like the Official Secrets Act, Sedition and Publication and Printing Presses Act, it should be abolished,” he said.

In Kelantan, anti-ISA vigil coordinators Zaidi Musa and Hamidi Musa were held by the police after the successful anti-ISA event ended.

Zaid and Hamidi were released under police bail at about 2.50am, and have been requested to report back to the Kota Bharu district police station the next day.

In a statement issued soon after the crackdown, Suaram said it "strongly condemns the police for their continued attacks on freedom of expression, a fundamental right which is guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Federal Constitution of Malaysia."