Malaysian police detain anti-war protesters; PSM slams minister’s ‘double standards’

Malaysiakini -- January 10, 2009 -- The police have arrested 21 people, including member of parliament for Klang MP Charles Santiago and several top leaders of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (Parti Sosialis Malaysia -- PSM, at an anti-war vigil at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. The vigil was organised by Anti-War Coalition to show support to the victims of war and aggression in Palestine and Sri Lanka.

About 200 people had gathered at about 8pm for the vigil, which was declared illegal by the police who were also present at the venue. About 100 light strike force personnel were on hand to control and disperse the crowd.

The crowd was ordered to disperse and the 21 were arrested for their failure to leave the area. They were then taken to the Dang Wangi district police headquarters. They are still being held at the police station.

Among those held were Parti Sosialis Malaysia leaders Dr Nasir Hashim and S. Arutchelvan, PKR’s Kuala Langat MP Abdullah Sani and several activists from Suaram and Jerit. Nasir is also the Kota Damansara state assemblyperson.

Abolish ISA Movement activist Norlaila Othman was also among those arrested. They are believed to be investigated for illegal assembly.

Small crowd at police station

Eye-witnesses told Malaysiakini that the anti-war protesters had first gathered at the Bar Council building before beginning to march towards Dataran Merdeka -- some 300 metres away.

Upon reaching the historic field, they then begun to lit their candle lights and unfurl their anti-war banners. These were stopped by the police. Attempts by Charles and Nasir to negotiate with the police to seek permission for a quick vigil were also turned down.

A small crowd had already gathered at the police station to show support for those arrested. They are being watched by the Federal Reserve Unit.

This is the first time the police have acted against an anti-war vigil in recent days.

Yesterday thousands had marched to the US embassy to object the Israeli aggression in Gaza without any police intervention.

Similarly another group of protesters in Kampung Baru was also allowed to burn the US and Israeli flags in the middle of the road yesterday afternoon without any police interference.

A police mockery

Meanwhile an activist narrated to AFP on the arrests.

“We were holding a candlelight vigil to demand the end to the killing of innocent lives in Gaza,” said E Parameswari, 30, an activist with Jerit, a group championing the rights of marginalised people in the country.

“Police used force to break up the gathering and arrested the 21 people including opposition lawmakers Charles, Abdullah Sani and Nasir,” she told AFP. “Police said our gathering was illegal,” she said. Parameswari condemned the police action, adding that the demonstrators did not provoke the police.

“The police action is an abuse of power,” she added.

Arutchelvan, the secretary-general of the PSM, told AFP they were being held in a police lockup.

“Our arrest makes a mockery of the position taken by Malaysia to condemn Israel. The way the police acted against us is no difference from the way the Israelis are treating the Palestinian people,” he said from the police station.

PSM slams home minister’s ‘double standards’

January 13, 2009 -- The Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) lashed out at Malaysia's Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar over his ``double standards and lies'' regarding the arrest of 21 participants in last Saturday’s anti-war candlelight vigil.


PSM secretary-general S. Arutchelvan (right) said the PSM was bemused at Syed Hamid’s attempt to defend the police’s action, claiming that it was a ``cheap stunt'' aimed at creating ``disunity'' among the people.

“Syed Hamid should stop defending the police for their shameful act which has exposed the hypocritical character of the ruling party”, he added in a statement.

Yesterday, Syed Hamid defended the police’s arrest of the 21 persons -- amongst whom were several parliamentary and state legislators -- on the basis that the demonstrators were allegedly not as concerned with the issue of Israeli aggression as they were about the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Apar from not having a police permit to assemble, Syed Hamid said the demonstrators had refused to disperse when ordered to do so by the police and hurled insults at the police officers on duty.

“These people were not demonstrating on the issue of Palestinians. They were actually demonstrating on the issue of Sri Lanka. The placards showed they were in support of Sri Lanka. Let us not mix the issues.''

“This is an occasion of tragedy and sadness, a thing that has happened in Palestine and that Israel is committing state terrorism. Don’t mix it up with other things,” he said.  

All races must come together

However, Arutchelvan pointed out that PSM had -- with other members of the Coalition Against War -- organised five simultaneous anti-war vigils in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Seremban, Johor Baru and Penang that Saturday, of which only the Dataran Merdeka gathering was disrupted.

He also noted that the PSM -- which held numerous other anti-war gatherings since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq -- organised Saturday’s vigil to highlight not only the deterioration of human rights in Palestine but the immense violence suffered by the common people in Sri Lanka as well.

“We believe it will be good for non-Muslims to see the Gaza invasion not purely as a Muslim affair and, likewise for Muslims, to see the Tamil issue not purely as a Tamil issue.

“It is only when people from different religions and ethnic groups come together can they appreciate the human values at stake in any struggle. This is why we did not hesitate to allow both groups to come together to express their solidarity,” he said.

On the minister’s claim that the demonstrators had created public disorder and hurled insults at the officers on duty, Arutchelvan said this was “a total lie”.

“The crowd was very orderly until the police attacked them”, he said, adding that a police permit was not applied for because the Federal Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of assembly.

Jerit criticises Syed's `selective' stand against war

In a separate statement, grassroots movement Jerit also condemned Syed Hamid’s “selective and discriminative stand against war and anti-war protests”.

Jerit activists were among the 21 who were arrested on Saturday. The group is also a member of the Anti-War Coalition which organised the vigil.

Jerit said that contrary to the minister’s statement that the protesters had misbehaved, it was the police who had been well prepared in their move to stop the vigil on that day.

“When some activists went into Dataran Merdeka, the police asked them to leave or face arrest as on that day Dataran Merdeka was closed for security reason. This happened at 7pm.

“Was this done in anticipation the protesters going to misbehave or was it a pre-planned action to stop the vigil as it’s organisers were not part of Barisan Nasional?”, asked Jerit secretarial coordinator Y Kohila.

She added that the rally was peaceful and well organised until the police started to seize the placards and posters of the anti-war protesters while the organisers were in the midst of negotiation with the police.

“Not only that. Male police personnel intimidated female protesters by purposely making body contact with female protesters. Vulgar words were used by the uniformed police officers and one policeman even threatened to slap one of the activist there.''

“So who misbehaved here? The protesters were arrested for illegal assembly and not for misbehaving. Please get your facts right Mr Minister”, she added.

She also said that the anti-war protest that day was not only against the attacks in Sri Lanka, but also in support of the Palestinians.

“Who is the minister to tell us not to mix up issues? Why cannot mix up? After all it is same situation - that is state terrorism and ethnic cleansing.

“Just as the Israel is killing Palestinians, the Sri Lankan state is killing the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

“Lots of civilians are dying in both countries and we as Malaysians and humans are genuinely concerned. We are not like the Barisan Nasional government who only picks up certain issues for their own political mileage,'' she added.