Bede Hong (Malaysiakini)
Sep 19, 07 5:28pm
The police had acted unfairly in preventing the opposition from using its sole means of communication – ceramah or public forums.
“The government have their television, radio and newspapers. What do we have?” asked PAS veteran Ahmad Salleh. “Ceramah is our only means of communicating with the people.”
Ahmad owns the house where the Sept 8 ceramah in Batu Buruk, Kuala Terengganu, was supposed to be held.
The police had rejected an application for a permit to hold the ceramah organised by the opposition-backed election watchdog Bersih.
That night, the police clashed with hundreds of people, leaving several, including policemen injured. Two men also suffered gunshot wounds when a policeman discharged his firearm.
While the police and government have blamed the opposition for the bloody incident, the latter claimed that Umno had planned the whole thing.
No problems in the past
The police had stated that the permit was rejected because the proposed venue, which is a popular tourist spot, was deemed ‘not suitable’.
However, Ahmad disagreed with this.
Met at his residence last week, the 77-year-old businessman said the opposition have organised numerous ceramah over the past decade at the same place without problems.
“My house has always been used to host such gatherings. The police never stopped us. There were no problems or bad incidents,” he said.
“We are near the sea, where thousands more can sit by the beach. The residents have never complained,” he said, adding that the biggest gathering drew a crowd of some100,000 in 1999.
Ahmad’s two story bungalow is located adjacent to the beach and faces a field that can accommodate at least 2,000 people.
On the day of the clash, a stage was constructed by members of Bersih. Five speakers, mainly opposition leaders, were slated to speak at the ceramah which was to focus on the 2008 national budget, the recently released Auditor General’s Report and the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder trial.
Ahmad said his house is frequently used by opposition leaders, including PAS president and former Terengganu menteri besar Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat, PKR de-facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and the late PAS president Fadzil Noor.
“The leaders who come to my house, leave as soon as the talk ends. There have been no traffic jam problems,” he said, referring to the police’s argument that the organisers for the Sept 8 ceramah did not specify how they intended to control the traffic and crowd in the area.
Ahmad said PAS members have always assisted in controlling traffic during such events. “They would also clear up the rubbish as soon as the gathering is over,” he added.
Apart from this, he pointed out that the locals have never complained about the events being a nuisance.
On the claim that the ceramah would affect tourism in the area, the PAS veteran laughed and replied: “There was nobody on the beach (on that day).”
“During the Pesta Terengganu (organised by the state government), there was a lot of noise near our houses, but nobody complained,” he added.
Looking for excuses
Ahmad was convinced that the police were deliberately looking for ‘flimsy’ excuses to cancel the ceramah.
On Saturday afternoon, he said two police officers had come to his house to inform him that the ceramah cannot be held. The police then returned with workers from the Kuala Terengganu Municipal Council to dismantle the main stage.
Around 10.30pm, Ahmad said two slated speakers, PAS Terengganu commissioner Mustafa Ali and Wakaf Mempelam state assemblyperson Abdul Wahid Endut, came to his house and told him that the ceramah had been called off.
“They also told me that there were more than 200 policeman manning roadblocks along the main road (Jalan Sultan Mahmud).
“I didn’t know what happened outside because I was in the house until midnight. That was when the speakers left,” he recalled, adding that he was saddened to learn of the shooting incident later.
The police claimed that the general duty policeman had fired four shots in self defence when he was assaulted by an angry mob. However, an eyewitness provided a different version.
Meanwhile, PKR Dungun division chief Razali Alias, when met in Dungun, claimed that a plainclothes policemen had whipped out his pistol and threatened to use it at a roadblock near Ahmad’s house.
“The policeman was very aggressive. He pulled out his gun, waved it and was shouting. He was angry because some people were pulling at his shirt,” he said.
In a related development, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) will begin its two-day fact-finding mission into the clash tomorrow, and not today as announced.
Contacted today, Suhakam commissioner N Siva Subramaniam said he will lead a five-member team to interview Terengganu police chief Ayub Yaakob, other policemen, PAS members and the constable who discharged his firearm.
Suhakam will also attempt to speak to the gunshot victims, Suwandi Abdul Ghani and Muhamad Azman Aziz, who are currently under remand for attempted murder.
House owner: Ceramah is all we have
Bede Hong (Malaysiakini)