Source: SG Human Rights
Source: SG Human Rights
Leaders of the Singapore Democrats will present a letter to the Malaysian High Commissioner on 17 Dec 07, Monday, at the High Commission at 30 Hill Street #02-01 at 11:30 am.
The letter is in protest of the recent crackdown on opposition parties, bar council, NGOs, and peaceful protesters in Malaysia.
Leaders from the SDP presented a letter to the Malaysian High Commissioner today, calling on Malaysia to stop its persecution of human rights defenders in the country.
Malaysia has seen a spate of protests by different sectors of society including the opposition, legal community, and civil society who are demanding democracy and human rights in the country.
Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr John Tan, Ms Chee Siok Chin, and Mr Charles Tan were present at the embassy at Jervois Road to present the letter of protest (see below).
The High Commission had expected the visit and promptly ushered the Singapore Democrats into its premises. The SDP leaders were received by a senior official, Counsellor Zainudin Abdul Shukor.
A few journalists and members of SgHumanRights activists were also present to cover the activity but they were not allowed in.
During the meeting SDP Chairman Ambalam expressed the party’s concern at the undemocratic actions of the Malaysian Government. He then handed the letter over to Mr Zainudin who assured the delegation that it would be given to the High Commissioner.
Mr Ambalam stressed on the need for Malaysia to release those presently detained under the ISA and for its government to respect the rights of its citizens.
Members of the ethnic Indian community have also protested against government policy that they say discriminate against them. As a result five of their leaders have been detained under the Internal Security Act.
Letter presented to the Malaysian High Commission
17 December 2007
The High Commissioner
Malaysian High Commission
30, Hill Street #02-01
Dear Mr High Commissioner,
We are extremely perturbed by the recent crackdown on opposition leaders, civil society activists, members of the bar council and peaceful protesters in Malaysia. These persons have been detained without trial, arrested, and harassed for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly.
For the Government of Malaysia to treat such acts the way that it did is to signal weakness, not strength. The brave protesters and their leaders want a democratic Malaysia which can only mean long-term security and stability for the country as well as for the region.
With Burma in turmoil, Singapore as repressive as ever, and Thailand trying to regain its democratic footing ASEAN seems like a bad thing waiting to happen. A region where systems that guarantee peaceful and orderly transitions of power are absent is a region of weakness and uncertainty.
ASEAN recently signed its charter where member states promised to respect the fundamental freedoms of their citizens. Let this not be an exercise in dishonesty and hypocrisy. Let ASEAN not become the laughing stock of the world.
We, therefore, call on His Excellency, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, to immediately and unconditionally release the five leaders of HINDRAF currently under ISA detention, stop arresting leaders of Malaysian opposition parties and the bar council, and cease all harassment of peaceful protesters.
For the sake of a democratic and peaceful Malaysia and Southeast Asia, we call on you to respect the civil and political rights of all Malaysians.
Singapore Democratic Party
I borrowed quite a chunk of the banner above from the United Nations’ Human Rights Day 2007 website.
On Human Rights Day, 10 Dec 2007, Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations’ Secretary-General, and Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, will launch a year long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The anniversary campaign is symbolized by the UDHR60 logo, which depicts a human shape standing with arms wide open. The yellow and red symbol represents liberation and equality. The yellow is a sign of peace and warmth. The symbol is set on a solid block which represents the foundation of human rights. The earthy red colour of the block reinforces human rights as a foundation stone and as humankind’s common heritage. (Source)
The UDHR60 logo comes with words that encapsulate the promise of the Declaration: “Dignity and Justice for all of us”. It reinforces the vision of the UDHR as the first international recognition that fundamental rights and freedoms are inalienable and inherent to all human beings, that every one of us is born free and equal. The phrase also serves as a rallying call, for the promise of dignity and justice is far from realized for everyone. The UDHR is a living document that matters not only in times of conflict and in societies suffering repression, but also in addressing social injustice and achieving human dignity in times of peace in established democracies. Non-discrimination, equality and fairness – key components of justice – form the foundation of the UDHR. And no matter where you live, how much money you have, what faith you practice or political views you hold, all the human rights in the Declaration apply to you, everywhere, always. (Source)
Malaysian lawyers and activists march, before being stopped by police, through the downtown of Kuala Lumpur December 9, 2007. Malaysian police halted an annual human-rights march on Sunday, arresting at least four people and drawing widespread criticism for being intolerant of dissent. (Stringer/Reuters)
Malaysian police arrest an activist as she marches through the downtown of Kuala Lumpur December 9, 2007. Malaysian police halted an annual human-rights march on Sunday, arresting at least four people and drawing widespread criticism for being intolerant of dissent. REUTERS/Stringer
Photo shows the arrest of the Chairman of the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee, Edmund Bon. Read the Bar Council report, This is outrageous!”, Bar screams over arrest of Edmund Bon, along with more photos.
Read these posts on the day’s events:
Press Statement: Human Rights Day Walk, 4 Dec 2007
The controversy surrounding the Bar Council Human Rights Day Walk scheduled for 9 December 2007 is indeed unfortunate and wholly unwarranted. This is an event that we have held for the past two years in recognition of International Human Rights Day, which falls on the 10th of December every year. It is a celebration of Human Rights, and the Malaysian Bar supports the International Human Rights Day as symbolic of the universality of human rights.
Apart from the Walk, the Bar Council is organising festivities in Central Market, which includes a lip-reading session of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stage performances by the Orang Asli and others, and a colouring competition for children.
Accordingly, this event ought not to be embroiled in controversy.
Most significantly, it should not be vilified as affecting race relations or be regarded as an anti-Government rally.
In fact, it is an event that would have demonstrated complete racial harmony and would have demonstrated (as we have before) that we can walk peaceably in unity for human rights the world over. It would have been an opportunity for the authorities to show to the world that we subscribe to these values. It is a missed opportunity.
The Bar Council has given anxious consideration to the present circumstances that surround this event, particularly the interests of the public and the Malaysian Bar. In consequence, the Bar Council has decided to cancel the walk from Sogo to Central Market. HOWEVER THE FESTIVITIES AT CENTRAL MARKET WILL PROCEED. We believe it is important that this event from 9am to 2.30pm be held, and the public are invited to attend it.
The Bar Council takes the position that the requirement for an application for a permit under the Police Act to hold this event, violates our constitutional right to peaceful assembly. In fact, the Royal Commission on the Police Force and SUHAKAM have said as much, and have called for a repeal of this law, as has the Bar Council. The police had asked for the Bar Council to apply for a permit for their consideration for the Walk. Apart from the circumstances that we have taken into account, we believe this is an unlawful fetter on our constitutional right to assemble peacefully.
We are mindful that many will be disappointed at the cancellation of the walk, but other more significant considerations have prevailed on this occasion.
Since April this year, the Human Rights Committee of the Bar Council has been tirelessly planning its annual Festival of Rights (to commemorate Human Rights Day) to be held on 9 December 2007. Much credit goes out to all in the team especially the Chair of the Organising Committee, Dara Waheda Bt Mohd Rufin. As Chair of the main Committee, I owe an explanation to everyone who has followed this event with keen interest.
Three major rallies have been held since we first planned the Festival of Rights – the Bar’s Walk for Justice, one by BERSIH and another by HINDRAF. The primary intent of the said rallies was to peacefully yet purposefully convey various messages to those who are able to act on them. At both the BERSIH and HINDRAF rallies, observers for the Bar Council on the ground witnessed and experienced the effects of tear gas and chemically-laced water which were unjustifiably used by the authorities on peaceful citizens of our country seeking to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly. This was extremely painful and disappointing.
Subsequent to each rally, the authorities including the police and Ministers in Government vilified the participants and organisers. They attempted to influence public opinion by distorting the nature, purpose and effect of the assemblies. Coupled with the unnecessary and wanton use of force to disperse the participants, the purport of their criticisms was to engineer an aversion towards public demonstrations of support and solidarity. These developments have been most disconcerting. Key features in our democracy are speedily being dismantled, and we appear to be continuing down a dangerous path to greater authoritarianism.
With these events which precipitated the Peoples’ Freedom Walk in mind, there were generally three options open to the Bar Council – to proceed as planned without a police permit, to proceed with a permit or to call off the Walk. After a lengthy debate with equally valid arguments in favour of each option, the Council decided by a majority on the third option. It was not an easy decision. I was in the minority, seeking to re-affirm our earlier decision which was to proceed without a permit. Nevertheless, once a decision is made, we must abide by it.
It must be explained that before the decision was taken, Council had notified the police regarding the planned Walk by a letter. This is consistent with international human rights practice. Our leaders, the President and Vice-President, then made every effort humanly possible to negotiate with and seek the assistance of the police to facilitate the Walk. However, the police wrote to request that an application for a permit be made.
For some of us, making an application for a permit would be contrary to Council’s position contained in our submissions during the Inquiry into the Bloody Sunday incident at KLCC in 2006. Further, we are against the present “licensing” model which empowers the police to regulate the right to peaceful assembly by the issuance (or otherwise) of a permit. We recommended that a “co-operative” model be adopted where the organisers and authorities worked together in the spirit of co-operation to facilitate any proposed assembly. Our submissions were adopted by SUHAKAM.
It is also pertinent to note that when we walked to the Prime Minister’s Office at the Walk for Justice, no application for a police permit was made. Our leaders are currently being investigated for an offence. We must stand united with them and continue to adopt the position taken at the Walk for Justice at any cost. We cannot waver.
Much as Council’s position that we ought not require a permit for a peaceful assembly is consistent with human rights law, an equally important consideration is whether we should nevertheless exercise our right to peaceful assembly under current conditions. We may lay claim to a right, and yet choose to exercise it sometimes, all the time or not at all.
It is not easy to dismiss the argument that in view of recent events and the attitude of the authorities, it would be dangerous to proceed with the Walk, and with little assurance that the safety of our participants would be guaranteed. We expected a large number of participants from various walks of life including women, children, the elderly, refugees and the Orang Asli.
Another overarching consideration continues to be the credibility and integrity of the Bar, and the welfare of our members. We cannot allow our well-intentioned motives and actions be distorted willy-nilly by those who hold positions of power in Government and influence over the media. The cause of human rights will continue to be fought nonetheless, and there is less lost in calling off the Walk as opposed to having to deal with an unmitigated disaster post-Walk, a prospect which is more real than imagined. It was an extremely difficult decision, but the majority felt that there was no better alternative.
As stated by our Bar President, this is a “missed opportunity”. It is sadly a loss for our nation and the Government as we seek to build a liberal, tolerant and caring society encapsulated in Vision 2020. Despite being a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, our Government clearly lacks sufficient political will to meet the expectations of Malaysians to respect and protect human rights, and to fulfil its international obligations.
This year, we will not be able to walk on our streets in commemoration of a joyous occasion. This year, Malaysians will be compelled to celebrate Human Rights Day in a fashion of protest. Protest by NOT walking our streets, or re-claiming them. We know we could have walked and re-claimed it, easily. We will take the streets in celebration on another day. We could have proceeded and joined the masses in the thousands at the Walk. But we chose not to. We could have been dispersed forcefully by the authorities. But we chose not to let them do so. A story in the media could have been spun about the Bar and paint it in a negative light. But we chose not to give them that luxury. It was never originally intended this way. But it has turned out so.
To all those who expressed their interest in the Walk, we are truly grateful and touched for your show of support. We understand that this Walk has created much excitement even among our friends from the rural settlements and the Orang Asli who intended to travel from far to join us. Speaking for the Committee, we deeply regret any inconvenience or misgivings we have caused.
We apologise for calling off the Walk. Please join us for Part 2 of the Festival which starts at 9.00am at Central Market. Among others, we will have a lip-reading session of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a multi-religious forum titled “When Faith Meets Law” which showcases religious leaders on the panel of speakers, an Orang Asli cultural performance and various performances featuring artists within the Bar and outside of it. Breakfast and lunch will be served.
We will continue to do what is right in the interests of the Bar and civil society. Rest assured, this difficult struggle will continue unabated. I urge you to stand in solidarity by our Bar leaders during these trying times.
We intend to call for an emergency meeting on Thursday (6 December 2007) at the Bar Council Auditorium with all the invited groups to explain these developments and discuss further action with respect to the Festival, and everyone will be informed of the confirmed time. For further details, please contact Mohd Rezib Bin Mohamed (03-20316367)
EDMUND BON TAI SOON
Chair, Human Rights Committee
Bar Council Malaysia
Amnesty International condemns the new arrests of political activists inside Myanmar, despite the commitment by Prime Minister Thein Sein to the UN Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari in early November that no more arrests would be carried out.
“Two months after the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests continue unabated as part of the Myanmmar government’s systematic suppression of freedom of expression and association, contrary to its claims of a return to normalcy,” said Catherine Baber, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Director.
“Normalcy for the military government may mean a return to systematic and widespread human rights violations away from media attention, but the international community must no longer tolerate this situation,” added Catherine Baber.
Amnesty International confirms that the following arrests have occurred since early November:
On 4 November, U Gambira, head of the All-Burma Monks Alliance and a leader of the September protests, was arrested and reportedly charged with treason. Two of his family members previously detained as ‘hostages’ in an attempt to force him out of hiding, have been kept in detention;
On 13 November, the government arrested Su Su Nway, a member of the youth wing of the main opposition National League for Democracy party. Fellow youth activist Bo Bo Win Hlaing was arrested along with her while putting up anti-government posters;
On 14 November, at least three people were arrested in Yangon for passing out anti-government pamphlets;
On 15 November, authorities raided a monastery in western Rakhine State, and arrested monk U Than Rama, wanted for his involvement in the September protests. He was reportedly beaten during the raid and his whereabouts remain unknown;
On 20 November, Myint Naing, a senior member of the National League for Democracy was detained;
On 20 November, ethnic Arakanese leader U Tin Ohn was detained and his whereabouts remain unknown;
On 20 and 21 November, other ethnic leaders, including Arakanese Cin Sian Thang and U Aye Thar Aung, Naing Ngwe Thein from the Mon National Democracy Front, and Kachin political leader U Hkun Htoo were rounded up but released after questioning;
On 26 November, Aung Zaw Oo, a member of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters group, was arrested in Yangon, likely on account of his involvement in planning events for International Human Rights Day on 10 December.
Amnesty International is deeply disappointed by the fact that these arrests are still taking place despite the government’s promises to the contrary. Just last week, the Myanmar government was attending ASEAN’s 40th Anniversary Summit, where it signed the organization’s new Charter committing it to the “promotion and protection of human rights”.
To date, up to 700 people arrested during and since the September protests remain behind bars, while 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests have not been released.
Amnesty International is urgently calling on the government of Myanmar to release all those detained or imprisoned merely for the peaceful exercises of their right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, including both long-term and recent prisoners of conscience, and to stop making further arrests.
Amnesty International notes that the Charter of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has been signed by leaders of ASEAN at its 13th Summit now being held in Singapore. Amnesty International welcomes the inclusion of a commitment within the ASEAN Charter to promote, protect and respect human rights and to establish a regional human rights body. However, the organisation is deeply concerned that the process followed thus far to establish an ASEAN Charter has been largely opaque and non-participatory. Despite the existence of a vibrant, active and dedicated civil society in the region which has been at the forefront of efforts to push forward an ASEAN Charter with a strong human rights component, consultation with civil society on the content of the Charter has been severely limited.
The organisation is concerned that any commitments made within the existing Charter to human rights protection will remain empty gestures unless they are followed by concrete action in a timely manner. This would include immediately addressing serious violations of human rights within ASEAN member states, and by setting up an effective human rights body. Such a body should be capable of addressing the human rights violations which are so prevalent a feature in parts of the ASEAN region, and to ensure that what the Charter calls “a people-oriented ASEAN” means in reality a human rights-oriented ASEAN.
Human rights in the ASEAN region
Over the years Amnesty International has documented a wide range of human rights violations- civil and political as well as social economic and cultural – across the ASEAN region, and notes that the region has seen violations that are both national and transnational in nature.
The current crisis in Myanmar, which is in fact a continuation of decades of serious human rights violations, some of which constitute crimes against humanity, is a case in point. ASEAN has so far been unable to bring about a halt to these violations, despite Myanmar being a member state. It is unclear to Amnesty International how the military government of this state was able to – or indeed was allowed to – sign the ASEAN Charter, when that government is clearly already in what the Charter reportedly calls “a serious breach” of its human rights provisions. Amnesty International is concerned that the ASEAN Charter may have lost credibility right from the beginning. Amnesty International is encouraged by reports that some ASEAN leaders share these concerns.
The cross-border movement of individuals across the region has included serious violations of human rights; whether it be the exploitation of victims of human trafficking, refugees and asylum seekers moving in search of protection from persecution, or the movement of migrant workers in search of a livelihood in the more prosperous ASEAN countries where they are often subject to abuse of their human rights including labour rights. While ASEAN has recently declared its intention to address some of these issues, concrete improvements on the ground are yet to be seen. Other violations prevalent across the ASEAN region include torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, extrajudicial executions, widespread violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law within internal armed conflicts, violence against women, restrictions of freedom of expression, assembly and association and disregard for economic, social and cultural rights of marginalised communities. Amnesty International calls on ASEAN to take up the challenge of comprehensively addressing all of these human rights concerns.
ASEAN human rights body
Amnesty International urges ASEAN to adopt a transparent and participatory approach to the setting up of the human rights body. Civil society organisations, including human rights NGOs, trade unions, social movements, women’s organizations, minority groups and members of the public, must have a prominent role in both the shaping of the human rights body’s mandate and its ongoing function. Civil society can contribute substantially to the human rights body’s ability to bring about compliance with international human rights law and standards on both the regional and national levels, as well as provide essential feedback on the work of the human rights body.
Amnesty International calls on ASEAN to establish a reasonable timeframe within which the human rights body will be set up. The organization also calls on ASEAN, when determining the terms and reference of the body, to ensure as a priority that international human rights law and standards provide a benchmark for all action undertaken by the body, in common with other regional human rights monitoring bodies.
The ASEAN human rights body must itself be – or else, if representative of governments, must have the power to appoint – an independent, impartial, competent, well-resourced, professional human rights body, whose membership reflects the region’s diverse peoples and cultures as well as gender parity. Members should be nominated and elected in a transparent process involving civil society at every stage of the proceedings.
As a minimum, the human rights body should:
o Work for and provide advice on the ratification and implementation of human rights and international humanitarian law treaties, including establishing effective training;
o Encourage and support states parties’ timely and adequate reporting to UN human rights treaty-monitoring bodies;
o Urge member states to invite UN Special Procedures to visit and to provide them with full assistance and access;
o Encourage states to implement recommendations of UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures, and provide advice regarding such implementation;
o Encourage the establishment and operation of national human rights institutions in accordance with the UN Principles relating to the status of national institutions (the “Paris Principles”);
o Investigate specific human rights situations, in response to submissions by individuals, organisations or states, or on its own motion;
o Develop tools and materials for human rights education and help member states in providing human rights education and training, both for state officials and for the public as a whole; and
o Work with and provide advice to national and regional human rights defenders, as well as ensuring that states allow them to carry out their work unhindered.
The human rights body must have the authority and be provided with sufficient resources to carry out these tasks in a timely and effective manner.
Finally, Amnesty International strongly recommends that the human rights body’s initial mandate should allow the future development, expansion and elaboration of mechanisms which will be able to prevent human rights violations and provide an effective level of protection, monitoring and promotion of human rights throughout the ASEAN region. Amnesty International urges ASEAN leaders to ensure that the future process of elaboration of the human rights body enables the effective and transparent engagement of civil society groups in order to ensure that people and their human rights are at the heart of this body.
Read Al Jazeera English report here
Malaysia’s veteran opposition politician Lim Kit Siang: Hindraf rally: excessive use of police force with firing of tear gas and water cannons
Tens of thousands of protesters massed outside Istana Negara this afternoon, facing off against riot police in defiance of a government ban on the rally calling for clean and fair elections.
The demonstrators, an alliance of opposition parties and civil society groups, had marched in the driving rain to the palace, chanting “Election Reform” and “Justice”.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had vowed to suppress the demonstration, backing police who said they feared riots could break out.
But the rally went ahead despite efforts to close down the centre of Kuala Lumpur, with a heavy police presence and roadblocks that caused traffic snarls.
“There are close to 30,000 protesters here at the moment. We have agreed to have them sit down in front of the palace and have four representatives present a petition” to the palace representative, a senior police officer told AFP.
Bersih: 40,000 at palace gate
Organisers of the rally said that at least 40,000 had turned up for the rally.
Some 400 police in riot gear were deployed at the palace, including dozens armed with automatic weapons and several with tear gas launchers. Two water cannons were set up behind police lines.
“The Malaysian public must be allowed to express their opinions and views,” parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said at the palace gates before going in to deliver the petition.
“It is not fair for the government not to issue a permit for this rally to take place as it is only the voice of the people being expressed here,” he said.
Organisers had planned to hold the rally at the city’s Dataran Merdeka but were forced to shift the venue after police sealed it off.
Anwar made short speech
Anwar Ibrahim, who was heir apparent to former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad until 1998 when he was sacked and jailed for sodomy and corruption, was only allowed to make brief remarks at the rally.
He yelled out his slogan of “Reformasi” or “Reform” and thanked the crowd for coming.
“We want free and fair elections and clearly Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and his cabinet are complicit to the crime of cheating Malaysians from having free and fair elections,” he told reporters later.
Anwar’s sodomy conviction has been overturned but the corruption verdict stands, barring him from standing for public office until April 2008.
Protests are rare in Malaysia, and the last major rallies were seen in 1998 during the “Reformasi” movement that erupted after Anwar’s sacking.
Kuala Lumpur (dpa) – Malaysian police on Saturday fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators who gathered in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur to rally for fair elections in the country’s largest anti-government protest in almost 10 years.
Despite the pouring rain and heavy police presence, more than 10,000 people gathered early Saturday at several different locations in the city centre and marched their way to the royal palace to hand in a memorandum appealing for royal intervention in the coming elections, which is not due until 2009 but is widely expected to be held before the end of the year.
Shouting “Long Live the king” and “Save Malaysia,” the protestors, who donned yellow as a sign of support for royalty, waited outside the palace gates until the king’s secretary received the memorandum from president of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Abdul Hadi Awang.
Just minutes earlier and several kilometres away, police fired tear gas and water cannons at several thousand people gathered at the Jamek Mosque in the city centre after they ignored warnings to disperse.
Police say the gathering and march were illegal, as the organizers failed to get a permit which is required in Malaysia for any public gathering involving more than five people.
However, rights groups have slammed the police and the government for not issuing the permit, saying that the people’s freedom of expression was being stifled.
The reasons given by the police were that the massive protests would inconvenience motorists and that the demonstrations were a hazard to public safety.
“We will be no different from Myanmar and Pakistan,” said Lim Guan Eng, the Secretary-General of the opposition Democratic Action Party. “It is paranoia to the stage of hysteria,” he said, referring to the massive police presence, including riot officers and helicopters.
The purpose of Saturday’s demonstrations is to call for the removal of “phantom voters” or bogus names from electoral rolls, a crackdown on government workers using absentee ballots, and access to state-controlled media for all political parties.
“We are here to make our voice heard, that we want fair and free elections for this land,” said Joshua Chin, a lawyer and member of the country’s Bar Council.
“Our calls for a fair election have in the past fallen on deaf ears, and so now, we seek the king himself to ensure that the Election Commission does its job right,” said Chin, who was one of hundreds of lawyers who joined in the march.
“We hope that as the king looks out of the palace and sees this sea of yellow, he will realize we are crying out to him to bring justice to a system gone wrong.”
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urged organizers to call off the protests, saying that “democracy through street demonstrations” could not be accepted.
Saturday’s public gathering is the largest the country has seen in almost 10 years.
In September 1998, more than 10,000 people took to the streets after then deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim was sacked and subsequently jailed by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct.
Anwar subsequently formed a political party, which was one of the 70 organizers of Saturday’s demonstrations.
Activists say Malaysian elections are generally tilted in favour of the ruling National Front coalition, due to the redrawing of constituencies to weed out known opposition supporters. There are also frequent allegations of vote-buying, election commission bias and the use of public funds and the media by the ruling parties.
The National Front has been in power since Malaysia’s independence in 1952 from the British.
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Police in the Malaysian capital used water cannon and fired tear gas on Saturday to disperse protesters in one of the nation’s biggest anti-government rallies in nearly a decade.
Police arrested at least a dozen people as tens of thousands of protesters, led by opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, marched in heavy rains to the King’s palace to demand changes to the country’s electoral system.
Hundreds of policemen, including riot police with shields and batons, guarded Kuala Lumpur’s landmark Merdeka (Freedom) Square, the main mosque and the National Palace to foil the rally.
Police sprayed water cannon twice to disperse a crowd of about 500 protesters chanting slogans outside a historic domed mosque guarded by about 50 riot police, as helicopters hovered overhead.
Nearby, more than 2,000 protesters, chiefly teenagers wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Bersih,” or “Clean” in Malay, marched in heavy rain towards the city’s colonial-era railway station.
They chanted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and “Reformasi,” a reform demand that was the war chant of 1998 opposition protests, while waving banners reading “Save Malaysia” and “Election Commission, stop your tricks.”
Groups of demonstrators later converged on the palace of Malaysia’s king, where opposition leaders handed over a list of election reform demands.
The opposition said it would organize bigger rallies if its demands were not met.
Police minister Johari Baharum said the crowd numbered less than 10,000, but organizers put the figure at more than 30,000.
“I’m happy that the police managed to control the crowd. But they shouldn’t do it again,” Johari told Reuters. “We will come down hard on them.”
Anwar said he was happy with the turnout despite the government’s condemnation of the protest.
“I think this is a major success in the expression of public sentiment against fraudulent practices in the elections,” Anwar told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“We will have to persist in this campaign to send a message to the government that people are tired of this kind of fraud.”
Anwar was speaking after he and several opposition colleagues, including Hadi Awang of the hardline Islamist Parti Islam-se Malaysia and Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party, submitted their list to a representative of the ruler.
“The People’s Right”
Mohamadiah Sohod, 33, a government worker from southern Johor state, said he was upset because police had refused to issue a permit for the rally. “This is the people’s right, to assemble and air their grievances,” he added.
Police effectively shut down the city centre, throwing up barricades on main roads to halt cars and turn away protesters, although crowds dispersed peacefully after the protest ended.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on Friday the government would not tolerate street demonstrations. “They are challenging the patience of the people who want the country to be peaceful and stable,” he said.
Previous protests of similar scale were anti-government rallies led by Anwar in 1998 before his arrest and jailing.
The rally was organized by Bersih , a loose coalition of 26 opposition parties and non-government groups that is pushing for reforms to an electoral process it says favors the ruling coalition.
Abdullah won a record victory in a 2004 election, and is widely expected to call snap polls in early 2008.
Two people were seriously injured in September when police opened fire to disperse rioters at a Bersih rally in the northeastern state of Terengganu.
(Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Jahabar Sadiq; Writing by Clarence Fernandez)