Mon, Aug 03, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Malaysia criticized over violent protest crackdown


Malaysia’s government faced criticism yesterday for arresting hundreds of people and using tear gas and water cannon to break up a protest against laws that allow for detention without trial.

More than 60 of the 589 people detained in Saturday’s protest, which saw at least 15,000 people massing in chaotic scenes in downtown Kuala Lumpur, were still in custody yesterday, media reports and lawyers said.

“I experienced first-hand the indiscriminate police use of tear gas and its corrosive effects,” said Lim Kit Siang, a veteran opposition lawmaker who was in the protest.

He condemned Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak over the heavy-handed police response, which saw 5,000 officers including riot squad members play a cat-and-mouse game with protesters through city streets.

“Is this an indication that the Najib premiership [sic] is going to be the most draconian of all prime ministers since independence in 1957?” he asked.

Najib had criticized the protest plans, saying that he had already promised to review the controversial legislation after taking office in April. Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is in charge of the police force, reportedly said the Internal Security Act (ISA) could be amended as soon as the next parliament session.

The opposition and rights groups, however, are calling for the colonial-era ISA — which has been used to detain government opponents as well as suspected terrorists — to be abolished.

Latifah Koya, a lawyer for the detained protesters, said that police were continuing to hold senior opposition lawmaker R. Sivarasa, as well as the wife and son of an ISA detainee. Two other children were also in custody.

“We totally condemn the police action. People who merely wore T-shirts with an anti-ISA logo were also arrested. We demand their immediate release,” she said.

Rights campaigners also condemned the police response.

“Aliran is appalled at the determined effort by the police to crush the peaceful march,” P. Ramakrishnan, president of Aliran said. “Thousands of concerned and caring Malaysians have undertaken this march out of a patriotic duty to highlight their revulsion for the ISA, which has gained notoriety for the mindless use of this law by the Barisan Nasional.”

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