Guan Eng: UMNO using riot as excuse to ban public meetings

UMNO using the Kuala Terengganu riot provoked by police mishandling as an excuse to ban public meetings in open areas to restrict civil and political liberties, particularly freedom of speech
– Press Statement by Lim Guan Eng, Secretary-General of DAP
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(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday, 11/9/2007): DAP condemns the ban imposed by the government on all political gatherings in open areas announced by Deputy Internal Security Datuk Johari Baharom yesterday. Clearly UMNO is using the Kuala Terengganu riot on Sunday night that was provoked by police mishandling, as an excuse to ban public meetings in open areas to restrict civil and political liberties, particularly freedom of speech.

Whilst DAP does not condone violence, it is clear that police harsh and heavy-handed action against ordinary citizens gathering peacefully for a BERSIH ceramah (NGO seeking free, fair and clean elections) had provoked the outraged response. This is borne out by comments from Terengganu State Chief Police Officer Datuk Ayub Yaakob in the New Straits Times on 10.9.2007 yesterday, “Our main priority is to restore public order. We would have preferred it if no confrontation had taken place, but at the same time, we had to take action to show that we are not weak.” Clearly the police acted in an arbitrary and high-handed manner to show that they are not weak.
In the same NST report on 10.9.2007, Datuk Ayub also said Konstabel Azmi Husin, who was in plainclothes, had fired two shots at 20 men armed with sharp weapons and sticks who had assaulted him. On the same day, Malaysiakini reported Datuk Ayub as saying only one shot was fired. However in the Star report today, Datuk Ayub changed the number of shots fired from one to four shots. So how many shots were there?
If the Terengganu CPO can not even be certain how many shots were fired, this shows how chaotic the whole police force is being managed in Terengganu. No wonder police lost control of the situation with harsh and heavy-handed actions, provoking the riot.
DAP does not condone any violence used whether by the police or demonstrators. This includes the irresponsible action of burning the national flag. DAP will support appropriate action against the person responsible. To ensure an impartial and independent investigation not biased to any party, a full independent inquiry headed by a retired judge should be established.
By banning public ceramahs in open places, BN is further restricting basic human rights and clamping down on access of the people with opposition leaders. Already the newspapers do not give opposition parties any coverage, except for distorted and negative news. How then are the opposition parties going to relay our message to the voters and campaign in the coming general elections without fear and coercion?
Such bans of public ceramah in open places follow the directive to newspapers not to print statements on four issues unless they are the Prime Minister and his deputy. The four issues are relating to whether Malaysia is an Islamic or secular state, the allegedly seditious rap video of Wee Meng Chee, the scandal of requiring Chinese schools to buy stationary from bumi companies and the controversial suggestion by the Chief Justice to replace the common law with Islamic law does not help to form a civil society. How can the Prime Minister and deputy be the only 2 persons out of 27 million Malaysians qualified to speak on these issues? Are 27 million Malaysians invisible?
DAP strongly opposes such bans imposed and would pursue the matter with international human rights bodies, especially the United Nations Human Rights Commission of which Malaysia is a member, to highlight such abuses of human rights and fundamental liberties.