Monday, August 31, 2009

Buah Pala women block police van ferrying leaders

A tense midnight drama took place at the Jelutong police station in Georgetown, Penang, when some 30 Kampung Buah Pala residents formed a human barricade and forcefully stopped a police van from ferrying their three detained leaders to the lock-up.

The residents' resistance was so determined that the police van was forced to reverse to its parking bay.

Police personnel then took the handcuffed trio - M Sugumaran, Joseph Stephen Draviam and C Tharmaraj - back to the station.

The police released the trio on bail some two hours later.

In the 12.30am incident, the police van was about to ferry the detained village leaders to the city police headquarters in Jalan Patani when the residents, mostly women, formed a human barricade at the station's gate.

Chanting slogans, the residents successfully blocked the van from moving out before blazing media cameras.

During the commotion, there was some pushing and shoving by both the police and villagers, but no one was hurt or arrested.

Blogger Aravindraj who was at the scene proclaimed it as a victory for Makkal Sakti (people's power).

"This would go down in history that for the first time, people's power had overcome police power," they said.

Two police reports

A police officer said the trio were arrested earlier at 10.30pm based on two reports - one lodged by a resident M Shanta on July 9 and another by a Bangaldeshi called Nordin on Aug 4.

In her report, Shanta had accused Tharmaraj of threatening her during an argument in the village last month.

However, at 1.30am today Shanta suddenly appeared at the station and withdrew her report.

She told reporters later that the report was meant only to protect her from any harm. "But I never intended for Tharmaraj to be arrested," she said.

Nordin, a worker hired by developer Nusmetro Venture (P) Sdn Bhd, had accused Sugumaran and Stephen of threatening him when the developer brought a demolition team to tear down the houses in Kampung Buah Pala on Aug 3.

According to villagers at the police station, Stephen was nowhere near the villagers' human barricade while Sugumaran was not present at all in the village on that day.

The trio were arrested at 10.30pm when they went to the Jelutong police station to have their statements recorded following an earlier report by Tharmaraj on alleged police harassment.

Another villager K Murugan, 46, was also arrested together with them over another report lodged separately by a villager known only as Saravanan.

However, Murugan was released almost immediately apparently because the complainant had withdrawn his report.

State gov't blamed

Minutes after the news of the trio's arrest spread, villagers gathered at the police station.

However, despite requests by lawyer Darshan Singh Khaira and local MIC leaders, the police refused to allow the trio out on police bail.

The police had originally planned to remand the trio today.

"This must be the work of the state government," claimed Sugumaran upon his release.

Kampung Buah Pala is commonly known as the Tamil High Chaparral

The village faces demolition on Sept 1. Two previous demolition attempts by Nusmetro early this month were aborted following stiff resistance from the villagers.

Since 1999, the villagers and several social organisations have lobbied for the village to be preserved as a state Indian heritage village.

The High Chaparral crisis has remained as an explosive political issue for the DAP state government to date.