13 September, 2007

Wishing all Muslims a Happy & Blessed Ramadhan

Wishing all Muslims around Malaysia with a happy and blessed Ramadhan. May this Ramadhan be better than the previous one.

Stop police violence, protect right to assemble

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is shocked at the unprecedented level of police violence against participants attending a road show calling for electoral reform. The use of tear gas and live ammunition upon participants, resulting in two people being shot and seriously wounded, is appalling. We also object to the call by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Nazri Aziz to take ‘severe action’ against the participants whom he described as having ‘rioted’ , without any prior independent investigation into the incident.

CIJ is also concerned that the confrontation was the result of deadlock between the organisers and the police, who refused to issue permit for the assembly. The public and the police are increasingly pitted against each other, as they continue to deny people their legitimate right to peaceful assembly.

For example, the police revoked the permit for a gathering organised by the Coalition Against Water Privatisation slated on Aug 10 at the last minute. On Aug 28, the government responded to minimum-wage pickets organised by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress with a threat of de-registration of the congress.

Nazri's call indicates a bias towards the police, who blame the participants for causing a riot. This is to disregard previous incidents of police initiating violence against peaceful demonstrators. For example on May 28, 2006, police attacked and hit participants at a protest against fuel price hikes with batons and water cannons, arresting 20 people and assaulting a journalist.

It is disturbing to note that in these two incidents, public gathering to air legitimate grievances were met with violence. CIJ is worried that denying people the right to assembly results in confrontations that could have been avoidable.

There is an urgent need to guarantee the right of the people to peaceful assembly and to rebuild faith that the police can be the impartial guardians of the law, particularly of the constitution. We urge an open independent investigation be held into this incident and that laws restricting Article 10 of the Constitution, on freedom of speech, association and assembly be reviewed and repealed.

(Gayathry Venkiteswaran, CIJ, via Malaysiakini.)

The writer is executive director, Centre for Independent Journalism.

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