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NGOs call for the end of “brute force” against peaceful demonstrators in Malaysia

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In a press statement issued on 18 February, FORUM-ASIA joins two national human rights NGOs to condemn the Malaysian government for increasing use of “brute force” against peaceful assemblies, such as the “Rally of Roses” organised by Hindu Rights Action Force on 16 February.

The use of force to deny Malaysians’ fundamental rights
must immediately be stopped

(Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur) Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemn the Malaysian government for its usage of brute force without hesitation against peaceful assemblies once again.

The assembly was organized by Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) on 16 February 2008, which was intended to be a handing over of roses as a peaceful gesture requesting the Prime Minister to look into HINDRAF’s demands. It was met with police violence, including the use of tear gas and chemical-laced water. Some 160 individuals were arrested in the assembly, including children, who were there to hand the roses to the Prime Minister. All of those detained have been released, with eight released under police bail (on 18 February 2008) while the others unconditionally (on 16 and 17 February 2008).

This latest police act of brutality is the latest in a series of blatant disregard by the Malaysian government for its citizens’ constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of assembly. The three human rights organizations seriously question the need to resort to such extreme measures as arrests and use of violence, especially when the organizers have pledged a peaceful gathering and indicated the presence of children. According to a lawyer representing those detained, a female demonstrator was beaten up while in police custody.

It is extremely disturbing that the Malaysian government is increasing its use of brute force to stifle three basic human rights, rights to freedom of speech, expression and assembly. The latest crackdowns on assemblies in the past few months point to an increasingly authoritarian government and a trend of high intolerance in the country. This has to stop immediately.

SUARAM, FORUM-ASIA and CIJ therefore demand that the crackdown and witch hunt on organizers of peaceful assemblies be stopped immediately. The Malaysian government must heed the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)’s call for freedom of assembly to be respected. We further demand that charges against all individuals in relation to demonstrations in the past several months be dropped immediately. We reiterate our call for those police personnel responsible for the excessive violence towards peaceful civilians to be held accountable.

Malaysia’s membership to the United Nations Human Rights Council will be openly challenged by the international community if it goes against the international human rights norms, including article 20 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates “the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association”. Malaysia’s pledge to the United Nations in 2006 that “[it guarantees] individual’s fundamental rights and liberties” will be just a charade if it is just rhetoric and far from implementation on the ground.

For more information, please contact:
John Liu, Documentation and Monitoring Coordinator, SUARAM, +603 7784 3525
Yuyun Wahyuningrum, East Asia Programme Manager, FORUM-ASIA, +6687 991 4451
Yip Wai Fong, Advocacy Officer, Centre for Independent Journalism, +603 40230772