Opposition defies police ban on protest at Parliament

11 Dec 2007
Police arrested at least 12 opposition activists who tried to gather at Malaysia’s Parliament for a pro-democracy demonstration Tuesday (11 Dec), thwarting the latest in a rare string of public protests.

Concerns also escalated that the government was clamping down on opposition activities after immigration officials briefly detained Anwar Ibrahim, one of Malaysia’s top opposition figures, when he returned from an overseas trip Tuesday.
Activists had attempted to submit a protest note to Parliament over a government-backed plan to amend a law that would extend the tenure of the Election Commission chief, whom the opposition claims is biased. Authorities say the accusation is baseless.
Demonstrators headed to Parliament from several directions, but encountered police roadblocks that caused traffic bottlenecks across Kuala Lumpur. It was not clear how many protesters were involved.
The attempt was the latest in a slew of public protests that have rocked Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s administration in recent weeks. Scores of activists have been charged with illegal assembly amid government warnings that such rallies would hurt national stability.
Separately Tuesday, Anwar _ who has backed the protests _ was informed by immigration authorities at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport that he has been placed on a watch list, the opposition People’s Justice Party said.
He was freed after about 30 minutes and was trying to obtain more details. Immigration officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Authorities had declared Tuesday’s protest unlawful, saying participants would face arrest. Malaysian laws forbid public gatherings of more than four people without a police permit.
Police backed by trucks mounted with water cannons, which held their fire, detained at least 12 activists near Parliament, said police official Ahmad Sofian Yassin.
“We are arrested for no apparent reason,” said Hatta Ramli, an official in the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. “There is no chaos, no riot, nothing.”
Five activists slipped into Parliament while traveling in cars with opposition lawmakers. They handed copies of their protest note to legislators, but did not stage any protest.
Opposition leaders had insisted it would have been a small demonstration, unlike a 10 Nov rally that drew some 30,000 people demanding electoral transparency ahead of national polls widely expected early next year.
That rally was followed by a similarly large protest by minority ethnic Indians on 25 Nov to complain of racial discrimination and economic deprivation.
Police on Tuesday also arrested P. Uthayakumar, a key ethnic Indian leader who organized the 25 Nov rally. It was not immediately clear what offense he would be charged with.
“I’m prepared for the worst,” Uthayakumar told The Associated Press.
Prime Minister Abdullah has warned that street demonstrations would not be tolerated because they threaten public safety.