Thursday, June 23, 2011

No need threats against Ambiga - just express peacefully your differing views

It is indeed embarrassing that there is so much protest against a call for free and fair elections in Malaysia. Now, even the chairperson of BERSIH 2.0 is being allegedly threatened with death.

Is this call for a free and fair elections in Malaysia just coming from a few individuals or is it coming from a large number of Malaysians? Proof of this mass support can be shown if only Malaysians come out in great numbers and show this - and that is why the right and freedom to hold mass peaceful assemblies is important. 

What the Malaysian government, and the police need to do is to ensure that Malaysians are allowed to exercise this right safely and peacefully - and this is what the police need to do - not threaten arrest and violence against those who come and out and participate in these protests.

Some have suggested that such peaceful assemblies should be held in some private venue - like a Stadium - but that would really defeat the main object of such peaceful assemblies, which is also to lobby greater support from the Malaysian public, those who are still sitting on the fence and others who have yet to take a position.

When hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands, overcoming the fear of being arrested, water-cannoned, discriminated against and other repercussions come out in public to express their stance - it will be proof enough that this is not really just an issue that has the support of a few but many. 

Why is the government so scared? Why is a government that says that people are a priority so scared - and not just open to see whether this really is an issue of concern of just a few or a large number of Malaysians. 
Malaysians want real democracy - not just the right to go vote once every 5 years to choose their reps in Parliament and State Legislative Assembly. Sadly, many of these elected representatives thereafter do not even really consult their constituents on any of the issues of concern. I have not heard of these elected reps organising open discussions and consultations with their constituents in town halls on a regular basis. 

Having talks and forums, where these reps come and talk 95% of the time and allow for a few questions and answers is not at all a true consultation and dialogue.

I recall a one day HAKAM's seminar on housing rights that I was involved in organizing, which was attended by about 100 victims and  potential victims, many coming from urban settler communities, which was attended by Azmi Khalid, the relevant Minister. In his session, the Minister spoke for a long time as usual and there was very little time for participants to have a dialogue with Minister. I must state that I was very happy when this Minister agreed to stay on for the next session to allow this real dialogue to effectively take place - and there was an interesting open discussion that followed. Azmi Khalid on that day was the exception, but I hope that there will be more politicians and Ministers who will be willing to spend more time with the people in open free dialogue and discussions - the only way to understand the true concerns and position of the people. Listening more is what we need....not talking.

I also recall, a meeting for which I was called for at the Majlis Perbandaran Petaling Jaya, which was supposed to be an open dialogue session via tele-conferencing with Abdullah Ahmad Badawi(he was not PM then). I was then the Chairperson of the Section 5 residents fighting for water. I arrived earlier than the appointed time, to discover that all persons who were to ask questions had been pre-selected, and their questions were pre-determined. This was no free open dialogue, and many who would have wanted to raise questions and make comments were not given the opportunity to do so.

What we need is a government that not just decides and speaks - but one that is also willing to openly consult and listen to its people. BN, and maybe also other governments, are sadly not interested in this kind of process. This must change. 

There must be public referendums - a way to get people's voices heard. There must be freedom of assembly and expression - so that voices of the people could be heard by the governments of the day. 

A government that does not listen - or is not willing to listen is a bad government - an undemocratic government. 

We do not want a government who justifies deprivation of freedom of expression who always says that 'government knows best' and that anything done will be done after proper consultation with all affected parties. But, then the people concerned never get consulted at all - and 'pseudo' reps chosen by the government gets consulted. Many a times, even the democratically elected reps are not consulted.

Peaceful assembly and protests can happen in Malaysia - and it did happen during the REFORMASI protests. Life went on as usual around the protests. Shops were opened and business continued as usual. But, when the police started their action - charging the crowds with truncheons, firing tear gas cannisters, water cannons, the situation turned chaotic and normal life around the protest site was affected. Shops close their doors...etc. In short, the situation is made bad not by reason of the protest or the protesters but by  police actions... This was my personal observation.

The police role at protest sites must be just to make sure that traffic flows are not disrupted, and that there is no violence against and/or by the protesters. 

Malaysian protesters are usually peaceful and very responsible until the police...REFORMASI protests were most interesting with little chits of papers with chants and timings handed out. There was even time for 'silent reflection' - and when this time came, chants stopped and people kept silent. It was interesting because the numbers involved was almost 10,000.
It is sad really that this lack of tolerance by the government (and its police) for peaceful assembly and protests happens in Malaysia. 

In Sri Lanka, several years ago when there was still fighting and real threats of bombs and violence, I witnessed a protest march organised by the Opposition involving thousands...and I was amazed to see that it all went on peacefully. There was police, but they just stood around without interfering stopping/guiding traffic as the procession flowed by. They did not carry firearms...or shields, truncheons, etc and was not at all threatening. There may have been riot police there - but they just stayed in their trucks away from the public eye. I was shocked at this demonstration of freedom in Sri Lanka then, which was absent then and still now in Malaysia. I hoped then and still hope today that the Malaysian government and its police will change their current attitude in favour of greater freedoms in Malaysia.

In election nominations, when there are more than one group of supporters from different candidates, the police do well in ensuring routes and places of assembly so that there is no clashes between these 2 groups. Malaysian police have the capacity and can do this - so even now that there are 2 other groups other than BERSIH who want to protest on the same day and time on opposing views, the police could easily ensure that these two(or three) groups could all exercise their rights and freedoms effectively without any 'trouble'. 

We shall see what will happen on July 9 - but I do hope that the Malaysian government and its police would act rightly to ensure that the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression is not impeded.

If you do not agree with BERSIH - just express your opinion - not threaten death or violence...
It is good that our Home Minister is taking this threat seriously, and investigating it

Ambiga death threat: Hisham orders police probe
Joseph Sipalan
Jun 23, 11
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein today said he will order an immediate police probe into a death threat against Bersih 2.0 chief S Ambiga in connection with the group's planned mass rally on July 9.

He said the threat, which was sent through SMS to several Bersih 2.0 members and journalists late last night and early this morning, must be taken “very seriously”.

“I am going to Bukit Aman immediately after this and ask that the police make sure that the threat from the SMS going around does not materialise and where it originated from,” he said at a press conference in the Parliament lobby.S Ambiga bersih chairpersonThe SMS, sent from the number 601119732179, singled out Ambiga (left) as the main target of the threat, though it was also aimed at PAS and PKR leaders who may take part on the rally for electoral reforms.

The lengthy SMS written in Malay, issued the threat towards the end, with the author claiming he or she will kill Ambiga and those around her “one by one” should they go ahead with the rally.

Hishammuddin noted that it is common for public figures to receive death threats, pointing out that he has received a few himself, but stressed that the threat against Ambiga merits greater attention than the usual angry message.

“In the circumstances of Bersih, we should take this a bit more seriously... I take this threat very seriously, especially as it is Ambiga, whom I know way back in my legal days,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hishammuddin defended the refugee swap deal between Malaysia and Australia, saying it could become a model for cross-border cooperation in dealing with human trafficking and terrorism.

'Malaysia will benefit'

The minister said whichever way the issue is viewed, Malaysia will benefit from the deal as the country will send over 4,000 illegal immigrants to Australia, who in turn will only send over 800 refugees.

He noted that both the Malaysian and Australian governments agreed to the swap deal as it is one way to take the fight to human traffickers and terrorists, who constantly take advantage of migrants.

NONE“If this is done well without polemics and it becoming politicised, this would be a very good model for other hotspot areas in the world,” he said.

Hishammuddin (right), however, was lean on the details surrounding the swap deal, saying the Malaysian government is still engaging with stakeholders and will reveal more in due time.

On the plan by a group of Australian opposition MPs to inspect facilities used in managing migrants in Malaysia next week, the minister said he does not see how this would make a difference in the issue.

“They can come, and I believe they will oppose (the deal). They are the opposition and that is what they do... they can oppose but what is the solution?

“Opposing for the sake of opposing does not solve the issue. What is important is the public, and not just the Malaysian public but also the Australian public.- Malaysiakini, 23/6/2011,
Ambiga death threat: Hisham orders police probe



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