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BG: Suhakam - Close It Down Or Respect It!
By Lim Kit Siang

15/8/2001 4:05 am Wed


Suhakam - close it down or respect it!

Media Statement by DAP National Chairman Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Monday, 13th August 2001:

Cabinet should decide whether to close down Suhakam or give respect and weight to its recommendations to uphold Malaysians' right to unrestricted and legal peaceful assemblies

The Cabinet should decide whether to close down the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) or give respect and weight to its recommendations to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia in accordance with its statutory functions and powers, especially with regard to its latest recommendations to uphold citizens' right to unrestricted and legal peaceful assemblies.

Last week, Suhakam released a 32-page report calling for greater freedom of expression and assembly, refuting the mindset among politicians that 'assemblies are intrisincally dangerous and liable to become a threat to national security or public order'.

Such a ridiculous mindset was vividly illustrated not only by the overwhelming police presence but also the unreasonable police restrictions imposed on the Bukit Bruang DAP Branch anniversary dinner in Malacca on Saturday night.

There is no way any professional police evaluation could come to the conclusion that the Bukit Bruang DAP Branch anniversary dinner, like all DAP branch dinners throughout the country in the past 35 years, could become 'instrinsically dangerous and liable to become a threat to national security or public order' as to require full mobilisation of police presence which could be more gainfully employed elsewhere to fight crime and maintain law and order.

Something is very wrong not only with democracy but the Malaysian government when the gathering of peace-loving, law-abiding but politically concerned Malaysians at DAP branch anniversary dinners is regarded as a potential threat to national security and public order, where the fundamental rights of Malaysians to freedoms of assembly and expression are reduced to the right to assemble to eat collectively but not to talk!

This is surely not the way to trumpet to the world about Malaysia's political stability or the nation's attractions as a haven for foreign direct investment!

Police professionalism had been completely set aside and dishonoured when their political masters decided that peaceful assemblies, including public dinners and gatherings by opposition parties, are regarded as potential security threats when they had never be considered so in the past. In the process, the police are reduced to laughing stocks, squandering public resources to man roadblocks and maintain excessive police presence at hitherto-peaceful opposition gatherings, ignoring the more urgent tasks to control crime and combat the bad-hats of society.

In its first annual report in April this year, Suhakam made the following interim recommendations on freedom of assembly:

  1. That application for permits to hold static assemblies (as opposed to processions) in premises such as private properties, be approved as a general rule, without restrictions on freedom of expression. The organisers are to ensure public order occurs.

  2. That other specific outdoor areas /compounds/spaces be determined by the authorities for the holding of peaceful assemblies. These should include locations and public spaces in major urban centres, including Kuala Lumpur.

  3. That the procedure for applying permits be simplified by using a standard form.

  4. That a declaration be signed by a minimum number of organisers to assume responsibility for the assembly to be peaceful, orderly and for cleanliness to be restored.

  5. That 'marshalls' be appointed and identified by the organisers to ensure orderliness.

  6. That the law enforcement agencies maintain a discreet presence to ensure orderly movement of people and traffic control and that public order personnel be on standby away from the assembly site.

All these recommendations were violated with regard to the DAP Bukit Bruang dinner on Saturday, where the police maintained the very opposite of a 'discreet' presence and most undemocratic and unreasonable restrictions were imposed for the dinner, as not to allow 'political' speeches.

The Minister for Culture, Arts and Tourism, Datuk Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir made a call to all political parties, government and opposition, to put aside their political differences for the month-long National Day celebrations so that all Malaysians can celebrate together without racial, religious and political barriers.

Abdul Kadir's sentiments are laudable but is the Cabinet prepared to issue a directive to all and sundry, from the Prime Minister downwards, that no one should make any 'political' speeches, statements, criticisms or attacks during the month-long National Day celebrations, binding all mainstream media, whether electronic or printed?

Coming back to the Suhakam recommendations in its first annual report in April - had the Cabinet and the Police in the past four months considered them and if so, what is the outcome, or are they just regarded as so much 'noise' by busybodies which do not merit any attention?

Last week, Suhakam recommended a total change in the attitude of authorities and far-reaching amendments to the Police Act as a long-term solution to uphold citizens' right to unrestricted and legal peaceful assemblies.

In the immediate short and medium-term, Suhakam proposed that a more lenient approach is taken by police in granting permits for assemblies as well as the introduction of speakers' corners.

The police clampdown on public ceramahs was announced just before the release of the Suhakam recommendations on freedom of expression and assemblies.

It is clear that the authorities were aware of the impending Suhakam recommendations before the police clampdown on ceramah and public meetings.

Was the Suhakam recommendation the spur for the decision by the political masters for the police clampdown on ceramahs and public meetings?

The Cabinet meeting on Wednesday should make a policy decision whether it is serious in respecting the Suhakam's role and functions. It should either respect the Suhakam's statutory functions and powers, implement its recommendations or state publicly why it could not do so. Otherwise, it might just as well close down Suhakam to tell Malaysians and the world that neither a human rights commission nor police professionalism has any place in its scheme of things as far as democracy and human rights are concerned.

- Lim Kit Siang -