Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Monday, 24th November 2008:

Stop the attack on civil society & press; institute IPCMC now 

I strongly condemn the use of force by the police against the peaceful demonstrators and arbitrary arrests of seven people who had gathered in Ampang late Sunday to call for the repeal of the Internal Security Act (ISA).

According to eye-witness reports the anti-riot police moved in on a small group of protestors as they were preparing to disperse following a speech by PAS Vice President Mohammad Sabu, who told the crowd that no police permit was given for the gathering.

This is a repeat of the clampdown by police in Petaling Jaya two weeks ago against peaceful demonstrators who were preparing to end their candle light vigil following the national anthem.

This reflects the highhandedness of the police force, abuse of power and non-tolerance to dissent by the government. Although it is clear that the police act upon orders of their political masters, it is time they understand that they do not work for the government.

While the police are quick to arrest opposition politicians, human rights workers and members of the civil society, they act as protectors during streets protests organised by ruling parties and groups which support the government.

The police force stood guard for 500 people who demonstrated early Sunday along Jalan Tun Razak, backing the government on the use of the ISA. This is blatant double standard.

I would like to send a clear message to the representatives and members of the Heritage Associations, Malay Cultural Organisations and Related Bodies Cooperation Network (Pewaris) - the ISA must go.

It is an outdated relic. The unvarnished truth is that the government uses it to silence the voice of dissidents in the country as it allows for detention without trial. Denying a person the right to legal representation goes against the fundamental principles of democracy and has no place in a modern democracy.

To believe lies fed by the government that ISA helps to prevent the outbreak of problems that might hamper national security is nonsensical. 

We are also noticing a disturbing trend during street protests - friends from the media told me that they were shoved and shouted at by the policemen during the ISA rally in Ampang.

Journalists, cameramen and photographers have been targeted by the police since the unprecedented electoral gains by the opposition at the March general election. Local and foreign media workers have been beaten and also verbally abused prompting them to lodge police reports and submit a memorandum in Parliament.

The attacks against journalists must stop.

Let us look at what the government is doing - it is tightening the noose on democratic space, using preventive laws to jail dissidents and vocal critics, clamping down on the peoples' rights to freedom of speech and expression and attacking journalists.

These are not attributes of a progressive government. It does not just reflect retrogressive approaches but gives us glimpses of the future government under the leadership of current deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

It shows a nervous government banking on fear tactics to stay in power. But what UMNO and its ruling allies fail to observe is the perseverance of the people. The anti-ISA candle light vigils and rallies have not stopped in the face of threats of arrests.

In reality, people are taking bold decisions to voice their dissatisfaction with the ruling government, preventive laws, abuse of police and ministerial powers, corruption and cronyism.

Let us keep at our efforts to abolish the draconian ISA. Let us come together and demand for the setting up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

I also strongly urge the police to unconditionally release the seven protestors, Hindraf Five and all other ISA detainees.

* Teresa Kok Suh Sim, DAP National Organising Secretary & MP for Seputeh