The government's decision to deny Hindraf the right to peaceful assembly has made a mockery of Malaysia's place at the UN Human Rights Council.
KOTA KINABALU: New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to respect Malaysia’s international and legal obligations and allow Sunday’s Solidarity March Against Racism to proceed.
HRW’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, called on Hishammuddin to overturn a decision by the police to deny a permit for the march in Kuala Lumpur, saying that the organisers on their part should ensure that the walk is carried out in an orderly and peaceful manner.
“The Malaysian government’s opposition to peaceful marches results in three big losers: the rights to free expression, freedom of association, and peaceful assembly.
“The Malaysian government’s commitment to diversity and development is betrayed when it refuses to permit peaceful criticism of its policies and programmes.
“Banning this march makes a mockery of the principles the government pledged to uphold when it assumed its seat on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council,” Robertson said in press statement.
The march is being organised by two ethnic Indian rights groups, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) and the Human Rights Party (HRP).
On Feb 24, the Dang Wangi police rejected a formal request made by W Sambulingam, national coordinator of Hindraf.
The Sundary march is in reaction to a government’s decision to assign the novel Interlok as a literature textbook for Form Five students.
The novel by national laureate Abdullah Hussain, which was first published in 1971 and revised in 2010, involves relations among ethnic Malays, Chinese, and Indians from the early 1900s through 1957.
The Malaysian Indian community contends that the book disparages Indians and contributes to ethnic tensions and discrimination in educational and employment opportunities for ethnic Indian Malaysians.
Meanwhile, the anticipated route for the Sunday march is from Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Towers to the Dang Wangi police station, where participants will attempt to lodge complaints against the government.
Hishammuddin had earlier said that Hindraf would not get a police permit to march.
“It is a banned movement… It doesn’t have locus standi to ask for a permit,” he said.
The government banned the group after it staged a massive demonstration in Kuala Lumpur in 2007.
HRP has applied for registration; however, its application is still pending.
The government has already cracked down on the HRP’s right to peaceful assembly.
On Feb 13, two weeks before the scheduled march, HRP initiated a grassroots information and recruitment drive in several states, dispatching convoys of cars loaded with activists wearing the group’s distinctive orange T-shirts and carrying posters, banners, and assorted promotional materials to various locales.
Police, however, stopped the convoys at roadblocks and diverted participants to police stations, where many were detained.
The police arrested at least 59 people on various grounds. In one instance, participants were held for driving in a convoy without a permit.
In other instances, police charged the activists with illegal assembly, interference with on-duty officers, obstructing traffic, and moving in a large group in a busy area.
Some participants, held overnight, were offered their freedom if they gave up their orange T-shirts, but when it became clear they would not do so, they were released on bail.
On Feb 20, police in three locations broke up HRP forums designed to explain the group’s concerns about certain issues and to continue membership recruitment. The police claimed that permission to hold the forums had been denied.
HRP leaders were among some 59 arrested. Eventually all were released on bail.
In a further pre-emptive move, M Gobalakrishnan, the person named on fliers as the contact for further information in Hulu Selangor, was picked up at his home by six plainclothes officers and detained hours before the local meeting was to begin.
Police also sealed off the forum site. Gobalakrishnan has since been released.
In November 2007, between 10,000 and 30,000 people participated in the first Hindraf-organised demonstration.
The then prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi reportedly said that Hindraf leaders undermined national security by threatening racial and religious harmony.
Following the protest, the government detained five Hindraf leaders under the Internal Security Act (ISA), and banned Hindraf.
The HRP’s application for registration, though pending with the Registrar of Societies, will likely face difficulties because of its association with Hindraf.