Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 29 Dec 2019

The suppression of the congress of Chinese educationists over the khat issue by the Malaysian police sadly followed the same strategy we have seen repeated again and again during the last few decades. When the Prime Minister announced a few days ago, that this privately convened congress would, in his logic, lead to opposing rallies by Malay groups, it was the cue for Malay supremacists to spring into action and threaten a demonstration against this congress.

The subsequent action by the police to stop the congress, of only around 1000 members, was a lame attempt to justify a patently undemocratic action to suppress the right of the Chinese educationists to assemble and to discuss the khat issue. It exposed the lack of professionalism of the police and worse, it showed that the Malaysian police are incapable of judging the character and “risk” posed by assemblies in the country. Otherwise, it exposes their plain lack of impartiality in guaranteeing the right to freedom of assembly and the right to freedom of expression under the Constitution, giving further suspicion of a “Deep State” pushing a Malay agenda.

The Limits to the Freedom of Expression

This most recent issue is rather like the issue in October 1987 when the Education ministry decided to appoint (linguistically) non-qualified senior officials in Chinese-medium primary schools. This was met with consternation by the Chinese community who did not want the character and standards in these schools to be irreparably altered. In order to call upon the parties to resolve the issue, the Chinese associations held a rally in the Thean Hou Temple. This meeting of about 1000 attendees was orderly and was attended by leaders of the DAP, MCA and Gerakan as well. There were no complaints from the police regarding the peaceful conduct of the meeting nor were there any racially offensive speeches uttered by the speakers.

However, in mid-October 1987, UMNO Youth staged a rally of several thousand at the Jalan Muda stadium in Kuala Lumpur. At this rally, several leading UMNO politicians including a Cabinet minister (who later became Prime Minister) made racially provocative statements. Banners bearing flagrantly racist and repulsive slogans such as “Bathe this (Kris) in Chinese blood” and the like (See the Government’s White Paper) were blatantly displayed. The Malaysian police allowed such a rally to proceed and there were not even any arrests of those who displayed such racially obnoxious banners.

As if this was not enough, UMNO decided to call for a 500,000 rally in Kuala Lumpur for the end of October that year and the daily rabble rousing was allowed to build up the racial tension in the capital. Somehow, the police must have been very confident about being able to control such a huge rally because they did not oppose the organisation of this rally.

This artificially charged atmosphere was the excuse for Prime Minister Mahathir to unleash Operation Lalang when more than a hundred innocent Malaysians (including the author) who had nothing to do with the Thean Hou Temple meeting were arrested and detained under the ISA.

During the interminable interrogations by the Special Branch, their officers tried to justify our detention by saying that the Thean Hou Temple congress had offended the Malay supremacists in the country and raised the racial temperature in the country.

My retort to the Special Branch interrogators was: Were the police powerless in that situation? I said, surely the limits to the freedom of expression must lie not only where it trespasses upon racial sensitivities but also where the police feel confident of keeping law and order.

In the particular incident at the Jalan Muda stadium, the flaunting of racially objectionable banners and speeches clearly showed that the police had no control unless of course, they condoned it. And if they could not manage a few thousand people there, how could they even contemplate allowing the proposed UMNO anniversary rally of some 500,000 to take place? By not disallowing this massive rally plan outright, the police had allowed the racial tension to build up and this provided the perfect justification for the ISA swoop on Mahathir’s key dissidents.

APCET was another instance of police partiality

In 1996, the Malaysian police’s partiality was blatantly visible in their handling of the APCET conference at the Asia Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. On 9 November 1996, Concerned Malaysian NGOs organized the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor in the Asia Hotel to seek a peaceful solution to the East Timor problem – East Timor had been illegally occupied by Indonesian forces and brutally oppressed since 1975.

The BN government under Prime Minister Mahathir and his Deputy Anwar Ibrahim were against the holding of this conference because they did not want to upset the Indonesian government. We carried on regardless since we believed, as with other justice-loving people around the world, that the East Timorese deserved their right to self-determination. Besides this conference was held as a private event in a hotel, not outside in a public space.

Soon after the conference began, a 600-strong mob led by the Youth wings of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition stormed the hotel and violently disrupted the conference, holding the local and foreign participants under a state of siege. The police arrived late by a whole hour to stop the violence and threats by this mob. They prevented the conference participants from leaving the conference hall but after several hours arrested the 59 participants “for not dispersing”. They were locked up under Section 117 of the Criminal procedure Code. Twenty-eight were released the following day but the others were given two-day and four-day remand orders by the magistrate. The detainees included NGO activists, students, local as well as foreign journalists while the mobsters were let off.

There was clearly connivance between the police and the mainly UMNO mobsters since the Special Branch operatives were present very early that morning at the hotel; the mobsters numbering a few hundred were allowed to gather and storm and harass the conference speakers and organisers; the police themselves were uncharacteristically late by an hour to stop the mobsters, and to add salt to injury, we the peace-seeking people were thrown in jail while the mobsters who threatened the participants with violence were let off scot-free!

There will be no Rule of Law while the “Deep State” dictates

The leaders of these mobsters who disrupted our peaceful conference included Saifuddin Nasution bin Ismail, the current Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs. We do not expect the Prime Minister to provide us with any idea of how the so-called “Deep State” operates at that level, but I believe Saifuddin and the PM-indeterminate Anwar Ibrahim can illuminate the circumstances and manner by which they operated at the time with the connivance of the police and Special Branch to disrupt our APCET conference and to arrest and detain us.

The October 1987 Affair and APCET 1996 are but two incidents where we can see the blatant partiality of the Malaysian police. The inconsistent behaviour of the Malaysian police has to be read in their collusion with the so-called “Deep State” in Malaysia and this collusion has to go back to the May 13 Incident and the hidden hands behind the New Economic Policy and the Malay Agenda.

As long as this “Deep State” exists to dictate what should be allowed and disallowed in this country, the rule of law will be deemed redundant and there will be no access to the fundamental liberties that are guaranteed in our Constitution.

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