candlelight protest and the government

here is a good article by anil netto at IPS. i first saw it in malaysiakini (thus the verbatim post i copied below will be from malaysiakini). while we are at candlelight protests, i wish to remind all of you of the candlelight protest in penang today.
date:  15 nov. (saturday)
time:  8.00pm
place:  esplanade (sea-front)
please refer to the sticky post for maps and further details.

confirmed speakers:
1. YB Chong Eng, MP for Bukit Mertajam, DAP Central Committee member
2. YB Mujahid Yusof Rawa, MP for Parit Buntar, PAS Central Committee member
3. Gary Nair, PRM Penang Chairman
other speakers might turned up too. several MPs had been invited and might be present. also, several bloggers from KL will be there.
there’ll be activities like sing-along and chanting.
candles will be supplied.
organised by PAINT – penang anti-ISA network (a group of concerned malaysians)


Gov’t edgy over candlelight protests
Anil Netto | Nov 14, 08 11:25am

news analysis


 Heavy-handed police action against a gathering of Malaysians near a shopping mall in Petaling Jaya, protesting against a draconian preventive detention law, suggests government nervousness at persistent public vigils.

The show of force comes at a time when Umno and its coalition partners are experiencing leadership transitions and factional struggles after a general election in March saw the coalition losing substantial ground to opposition parties.

On Sunday, riot police moved in as the crowds were singing the national anthem and about to disperse peacefully. They detained 23 people, including three elected representatives, media personnel, activists and a Catholic priest. All of them were released the next morning but await possible charges.

bersih 1st year anniversary pj vigil arrest 111108 ariff abdulA few protesters complained that they were assaulted and roughed up. The police action came as a surprise as, until now, the weekly regular protests in four major cities passed without incident.

"Two guys came over to grab one arm each and pushed me towards the police truck,” recalls parliamentarian Tony Pua in his blog. ”I stated that I will walk, don’t be rough but they tore my shirt instead.

"I repeated my call and three other police officers came at me, one with the knees into my belly while another attempted to kick my shin.

”They then chucked me against the back of the truck and shoved me up despite me stating that I can climb in myself.”

Against a storm of criticism, police have defended their action. "We don’t take sides. Even if an NGO, or even government parties were to organise such a gathering without permit, we would have acted in the same way," Selangor state chief police officer Khalid Abu Bakar was reported as saying.

The country’s police chief, Musa Hassan, pointed out that the group had not applied for a permit, the gathering was illegal and police had acted lawfully.

Uniting against ISA

The candlelight vigils, themed ‘Abolish the Internal Security Act’ began in September, when three individuals were detained without trial under the law. An immediate outcry was followed by weekly vigils in Penang and later in Petaling Jaya.

Instead of the vigils gradually fizzling out, residents in Ipoh and Seremban have joined in with their own weekly protests.

raja petra candlelight vigil 070508 singingEach of these protests typically draws 150 to 300 people. Holding lighted candles and clad in ‘Abolish ISA’ T-shirts, they listen to speeches and poems, sing songs of freedom and justice and sign petitions. Afterwards, eye-witnesses post pictures and accounts of these vigils on blogs and websites, reaching a larger audience.

The ISA allows the police to hold anyone for up to 60 days for interrogation, after which they are either released or sent to a detention camp in Kamunting under renewable two-year detention orders – in effect, indefinite detention without trial.

Although the three who were detained in September have since been released, another 65 detainees, many of whom are alleged to have links to regional terror groups, remain incarcerated without trial, several of them for close to seven years.

Sunday’s vigil in Petaling Jaya was joined by civil society activists belonging to the campaign group Bersih, which is lobbying for electoral reforms and cleaner elections in Malaysia. The vigil coincided with the eve of the first anniversary of a huge Bersih protest rally on the streets of Kuala Lumpur last November which drew about 40,000 people.

That, coupled with the presence of Malaysia Today news-portal manager Raja Petra Kamarudin, the last of the three ISA detainees to be freed, could have unnerved the authorities.

bersih 1st year anniversary pj vigil arrest 111108 rpk fan 2Raja Petra’s articles on scandals in the corridors of power have attracted a huge following, but they have also landed him in hot water on a number of occasions. A court last Friday, in a rare decision against the Home Minister’s power to detain anyone under the ISA, surprisingly freed him from the Kamunting detention camp, much to the delight of civil society activists.

But Raja Petra is currently embroiled in a sedition trial over articles he is said to have written linking deputy prime minister Najib Abdul Razak with the murder of a Mongolian woman. Najib has vehemently denied any involvement.

The action to break up the vigil on Sunday comes against the backdrop of a leadership transition in Umno and an intensely fought campaign for party elections scheduled for March. Although Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has effectively handed over the Umno presidency to his deputy Najib without contest, critics claim the premier’s hand was forced after the coalition’s dismal performance in the general election.

Three candidates are now vying to be the next Umno deputy president, taking over from Najib. Former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s son Mukhriz, meanwhile, is staking claim to become the party’s next youth chief.

Politics and factional disputes

umno money politicsIn the midst of all this, the party’s disciplinary committee has reportedly received 900 complaints of money politics (a euphemism for vote-buying) while factional disputes in party divisions have led to some bitterness.

Some fear that with the rise within Umno of those close to the former authoritarian premier, Malaysian society could be in for a return to the strong-arm methods that the Mahathir administration was known for.

Meanwhile, the Abolish ISA Movement – which comprises over 80 civil society groups and other civil society activists – is unlikely to slacken the campaign to repeal the law.

The police action on Sunday may deter some from participating in future vigils, but others are vowing not to be cowed. ”In the midst of all this uncertainty and adversity, something pure is bound to be born,” says a regular participant at the vigils, who declined to be identified.

”My friends have literally come face to face with reality and now have to choose between fear and truth. I remain hopeful and steadfast.”



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