Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Monday, 10th November 2008:

Police violence against Bersih supporters - worse things to come under PM in waiting Najib?

I vehemently condemn the arrests of 24 people and police brutality against people who gathered peacefully at the Bersih rally in Petaling Jaya Civic Centre to call for electoral reforms and an end to ISA, as it reflect the abuse of police powers.

The police have perpetrated violence by physically manhandling my colleagues Lau Weng San, ADUN Kampung Tunku, Tony Pua, an opposition Member of Parliament and forcefully taking away tapes of journalists who recorded the incident and arresting a Malaysiakini videographer.

Also arrested were Catholic Priest Rev Fr Paulino Miranda, the parish priest of the Church of the Divine Mercy in Shah Alam and Selangor Executive Councilor Ronnie Liew.

The arrests signal the desperation of the government that is threatened by peoples' power and their demands for democratic space in the country. It also puts a further lid on freedom of the press.

Are these abuses of power a precursor to worse things to come under Prime Minister in waiting Najib Tun Razak?

Speaking to journalists, the Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar is reported to have said that the protesters were arrested as they had no police permit and were chanting and sloganeering - all acts that were construed as a possible threat to the public and national security.

This is a joke. When would the police and government understand that chanting slogans is part of democracy? Furthermore, how are we to perceive the double standards practiced by the police? Demonstrations held by ruling parties are granted police permits. Others just have to keep applying, knowing the applications would not go through.

In reality, government had been moving in to clamp down on dissent after its dismal performance at the March general election. Staunch supporters of the ruling Barisan Nasional government voted for the opposition simply because they were fed-up of the ruling elite, their crony connections, corruption running into billions of dollars, mismanagement of the economy, abuse of police and ministerial powers, questionable judicial independence and the lack of transparency and accountability.

Instead of cleaning up the mess, the government is making one too many mistakes that anger the people even more.

This is clear in the arbitrary arrests of opposition politicians, hasty detentions under the Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial and equally hasty releases, subtle threats with racial undertones and suppression of any form of opposition to the government.

In short, the government is slowly tightening the noose on whatever freedom of expression and speech that is left.

A more vivid example would be charging at people using anti-riot police as they are half-way through singing the country's national anthem before dispersing, like what happened at the Bersih rally.

Therefore, I urge the police to immediately release all the protesters who have been detained at the Sunday rally. I also make a strong appeal to the government to set-up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission or IPCMC to monitor abuse of police powers.

* Charles Santiago, MP for Klang