Government, rocked by mass demonstrations, takes revenge
Last Tuesday, leaders of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia were among those arrested in a new round of detentions. The same day, the British Financial Times carried an article about an earlier round-up over the week-end in what appears to be a vicious game of cat and mouse with opposition parties and groups. It quoted the prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, as saying that “he was willing to sacrifice public freedoms for stability”.
“A series of protests have emerged in recent weeks as the biggest political challenge to confront the prime minister since he took office in 2003…The sudden eruption of street demonstrations, which are banned in Malaysia, appears to have shaken the Abdullah administration and may disrupt plans to call an early general election next year.”
Below is an article on the background and an appeal for more protests and solidarity.
International solidarity needed now!
Massive crackdown against protesters
Government action can provoke yet greater opposition
The right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest is supposed to be guaranteed in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Malaysian government has acknowledged, and also in Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution itself. But the Malaysian government has continuously denied these rights in order to maintain its authoritarian rule. These undemocratic practices have also been employed in the recent demonstrations and protests.
Two big rallies in Kuala Lumpur last month gathered around 30,000 protesters after a decade without major protests in Malaysia. They have shaken the government to the core. The first one was on 10 November, organised by ‘Bersih’ (‘Clean’) – a coalition of opposition parties and NGOs – to demand reforms in the electoral system. The second was on 25 November, organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf), the coalition of ethnic Indian NGOs, to highlight the socio-economic marginalisation and racial discrimination against Indians in Malaysia.
Prior to these rallies, the government used substantial threats through the mainstream media and police intimidation to stop people from gathering. But thousands thronged to express their dissatisfaction against government policies and the treatment of protesters. Police also used tear gas, water canon and beat protesters in these peaceful demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters were also detained during them. Since the major rallies, the Malaysian police force continued its crackdown on anti-government protesters defying a police ban against rallying in Kuala Lumpur.
On 6 December, thirty-one people who participated in the Hindraf rally were charged with attempted murder for allegedly causing injury to a policeman during the protest. They were denied bail. On 9 December, police arrested nine people, including 12 members of opposition parties, for taking part in the Bersih rally on 10 November. On the same day, about 100 people, including lawyers and activists, staged a ‘Peace Walk’ in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate World Human Rights Day but were stopped by over 300 policemen. Subsequently police detained nine people including five lawyers.
On 11 December, 29 people, including leaders of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), were arrested when they defied a court order and attempted to hand over a memorandum opposing the constitutional amendment to extend the retirement age of some Election Commission (EC) officials from 65 to 66. All of those arrested have been released but some of them will be charged in court with illegal assembly on 18 December. Also on December 11, former Malaysian Deputy Premier and Opposition Leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was detained at the capital’s airport on 11 December. He was held for an hour after returning from a trip to Turkey.
The crackdown on protesters and opposition leaders continued as the authorities detained five Hindraf leaders on 13 December under the Internal Security Act (ISA) when they were planning further protests. The notorious ISA allows for the arrest and detention for an indefinite period of any person suspected of being likely to commit an act deemed ‘dangerous to national security’. Malaysian governments have constantly used the ISA for their own political purposes to detain thousands of citizens, including political opposition leaders, academics and trade unionists as well as religious, social, environmental and women’s rights activists.
Attempts to stamp out the movement
The recent actions by the government are attempts to further stifle and silence the increasing protests and demonstrations in Malaysia. Opposition has been growing under the impact of the government’s socio-economic policies which have increased the cost of living, unemployment and inflation, as well as causing social epidemics such as crime. The government’s integrity amongst the masses is deteriorating with the revelations of growing corruption and mismanagement of public funds. Racial tension and dissatisfaction, resulting from government policies, are also growing. In this situation the government has used the racial and religious cards to divide Malaysia’s multiracial society in order to safeguard its own interests, as well as aiming to achieve substantial votes in the coming general election. But its actions can provoke even bigger opposition.
The Malaysian government is using repression but claiming it is in the interests of democracy and peace on the streets! It is out to preserve the privileges and domination of the elites in the coalition parties of the governing National Front with the support of the capitalists. This has undermined genuine democracy for the majority of workers and oppressed people of Malaysia.
The struggle for basic democratic rights like the right to protest, to meet in public, to rally and to organise must be given maximum support from within and outside Malaysia. The force best able to lead a united fight on these issues and uphold genuine democracy is the working class of Malaysia. Therefore, workers and oppressed people, regardless of race or religion, must unite to fight this openly business-dominated government and its brutal oppression and struggle together to build a socialist society that gives priority to the fundamental needs of human beings and genuine democracy.
Below is a protest sent to the Prime Minister by the Committee for a Workers’ International. Please send your own protest to the addresses that follow, with copies to the Part Sosialis Malaysia at: email@example.com and the CWI at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi
Prime Minister’s Office Malaysia
Perdana Putra Building,
Federal Government Administrative Centre,
Tel: ++ 60 3 8888 6000
Fax: ++60 3 8888 3444
Inspector-General of Police
Tan Sri Musa Hassan
Ibu Pejabat Polis Diraja Malaysia,
50560 Bukit Aman,
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Tel: ++603 2262 6015
Fax: ++603 2272 5613
Letter sent by cwi
Drop the charges!
Establish full democratic rights without delay!
From the Committee for a Workers’ International
To the Prime minister of Malaysia
Our international organisation has groups and sections in 40 countries around the globe and we are appalled at the attempt of your government to crack down on the democratic right to peaceful protests.
We condemn the round-up and arrest of various activists, including leaders of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Arutchelvan Subramaniam, Dr. Nasir Hashim and Sivarajan Arumugam.
We call on your government to release all those who are still being held and to drop all charges against those due in court!
We call on the government to grant full democratic rights to all, including the rights of assembly, of public protest, freedom of expression and of the media. We also believe the electoral system does not allow all parties to register and contest on an equal footing and support the Bersih movement’s demands for reform.
As socialists we are further concerned about the living and working conditions of workers and poor people of all backgrounds. We call on the government to establish full trade union rights in the workplace. We support the maximum unity in struggle against all attempts to divide workers along the lines of race or religion.
We will continue to support those who fight for social justice and socialism worldwide.