SUARAM press release on police intimidation and arrests

Press statement, 10 November 2007:
Government uses police to intimidate public, arrest peaceful demonstrators and silent groundswell of dissent ahead of upcoming polls 
SUARAM strongly condemns the arrests of at least 28 persons, including women, and the use teargas and water cannons by the police during a rally in Kuala Lumpur today (10 November 2007).

The rally calling for free and fair elections in Malaysia was organised by BERSIH, a coalition of over 70 civil society groups and political parties, including SUARAM.
The actions of the police in trying to stop the rally before it even started and in arbitrarily arresting the peaceful participants during the rally is a gross violation of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which is the highest law in the country, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
It must be stressed that even before the rally started, the police had already set up roadblocks to check all buses and cars coming in from outside Kuala Lumpur. Several roads leading to the originally-planned venue, Dataran Merdeka, were sealed at key entry points, while train service to a station near the venue was disrupted. Members of the public were also subjected to checks at several locations and many were refused entry into the vicinity of the venue.
SUARAM deplores the police’s unnecessary actions to intimidate the public from participating in the rally despite the assurances made by the organisers to the police of the measures that will be taken to ensure order and peace during the rally.
In view of the intimidation and warnings by the police to arrest any member of the public who attended the rally, it is clear that the police did not even attempt to perform their duties to ensure public order during the rally. Rather, judging by the stern warnings given and roadblocks set up, we view that the police had aimed to stop the rally by whatever means – including the use of force.
This was proven when the police started spraying over a dozen rounds chemical-laced water and teargas at Masjid Jamek, one of the meeting points for the rally, even before the scheduled rally had started.
Further, as in other previous peaceful demonstrations, there were eyewitness reports of plainclothes police personnel trying to harass and instigate violence in the crowd of peaceful demonstrators.
We view the police’s attempts to stop the rally, the use of water cannons and teargas, and the subsequent arrests of at least 28 peaceful demonstrators as the government’s deliberate attempt to stifle the groundswell of dissent in view of the upcoming general elections which is widely believed to be held in the nearest time.
This was confirmed when the Prime Minister himself warned of harsh actions and bluntly said during the President’s speech in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party general assembly on 9 November 2007, that he “do[es] not like to be challenged”, in response to the proposed rally.
The arrests, intimidation and attempts to stop the rally expose the pretense of Malaysia in the international community as a country that upholds democracy and human rights. We call on the international community to condemn Malaysia for paying no regards to the fundamental right to freedom of assembly even though it is a member with the United Nations Human Rights Council.
SUARAM demands that all those arrested by the police be released unconditionally and immediately. We further demand that the police be held accountable for the arbitrary and unnecessary arrests, and the use of teargas and water cannons on peaceful demonstrators.
Released by,
John Liu