Suhakam should end its  wishy-washy  stand and resolve the two conflicting statements  on open-air public rallies by Harun and Hamdan with  a clear-cut position which is fully in keeping with its statutory objective to protect and promote human rights

Media Statement (2)
at the Defend Secular Malaysia campaign at SS2, Petaling Jaya
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling JayaTuesday): Malaysians are confused by the wishy-washy stand of Suhakam, compounded by  conflicting statements of  different Suhakam Commissioners,  on the lifting of the 25-year ban on open-air rallies. Suhakam should come out with a clear-cut stand on open-air public rallies which is in keeping with its statutory objective to protect and promote human rights. 

Today’s press reported Suhakam Commissioner Prof Datuk Hamdan Mohd Adnan  as saying in  Kangar that Suhakam is supportive of mass election rallies provided they are held in peaceful settings, although Deputy Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Harun Hashim sent out a different message when he said, as reported by Utusan Malaysia on Saturday (20.9.03) as follows:

PULAU PINANG 19 Sept. - Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Manusia Malaysia (Suhakam) mahu aspek keselamatan diberi pertimbangan dahulu sebelum membenarkan sebarang rapat umum pada pilihan raya umum ke-11 bagi mengelakkan peristiwa berdarah rusuhan kaum pada 1969 berulang.

Timbalan Pengerusinya, Tan Sri Harun Mahmud Hashim berkata, realitinya semua pihak termasuk parti politik berhak untuk mengadakan rapat umum kerana ia adalah `suatu cara dan bentuk kempen pilihan raya'.

Namun, tegasnya, rapat umum perlu mengikut lunas undang-undang dengan memperoleh permit polis yang bertanggungjawab penuh dalam aspek keselamatannya.

``Sebenarnya sudah berlaku pun pada 1969 (apabila rapat umum dibenarkan), itulah sampai berbunuh-bunuhan. Kita tidak mahu mengulangi sejarah tahun 1969.

``Untuk membuat rapat umum, kawalan keselamatan terletak dalam kuasa polis. Kalau perhimpunan disertai lebih daripada tiga orang, permit polis diperlukan. Soal keselamatan perlu diberi perhatian,'' katanya ketika dihubungi hari ini.

Harun did not sound like the Deputy Chairman of  Human Rights Commission to advocate the lifting of the 25-year ban on rallies  but a Deputy Inspector General of Police to defend a continued ban! 

It must be stressed that every  responsible person and  political party wants public rallies to be trouble-free, as no one wants any public rally to degenerate into disturbances and chaos.  This was testified by the smooth conduct of open-air public rallies in the 19 years when they were allowed in the country, involving four general elections.

Everyone  agrees and wants security at open-air public rallies, as it should be the  concern not only of the police but also the organizer or political party responsible for the rally – so the security factor  should not be used to stymie and ban open-air public rallies.

Harun has done democracy and  human rights a grave disservice when, after distorting the history of the May 13 riots in 1969, he presented  the issue of security in such a manner as to give the authorities and those opposed to democracy and human rights the excuse  to continue the 25-year-ban on public rallies, a good example being the  outright opposition  adopted by Wanita UMNO yesterday to open-air public rallies on grounds of security.

Wanita UMNO chief Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz asked yesterday: “Why take the risk when we know that it can be difficult to control the crowd?  Anyone including foreigners can attend public rallies and situations may get out of hand…”

By her logic, why then was the Barisan Nasional leadership so irresponsible as to hold a public rally at the Merdeka Stadium last Saturday  for its “50th power sharing anniversary”, which was officially claimed to be attended by over 30,000 people, despite the security risks?

It is pathetic to read the apology by Radio and Television Malaysia  for its failure to carry live the Barisan Nasional’s 50th power sharing anniversary public rally last Saturday, after it was blasted by the Barisan Nasional secretary-general Tan Sri Mohamed Rahmat.

RTM should be apologizing, not to Mohamad Rahmat and Barisan Nasional, but to the Malaysian people and taxpayers for its double-standards  and breach of public trust when it should be a public broadcaster for the country and 25 million Malaysians and not for ruling political parties, in particular UMNO.   

Mohamad Rahmat forgets that Barisan Nasional and  the other BN parties just do not matter in the BN “power-sharing” scheme of things, as only UMNO matters. However, if RTM is to give live telecast  coverage of UMNO events, it must accord similar treatment to  those of Opposition parties as well – as RTM stands for “Radio Television Malaysia”  and has not legally become “Radio Television Mahathir” or “Radio Television UMNO”.

Finally, it is a sad commentary of the utter lack of power-sharing in the Barisan Nasional that to date, only UMNO Ministers could speak up on the issue of the  lifting of the 25-year ban on public rallies,  – and the utter silence of the MCA, Gerakan, MIC and  other non-UMNO Ministers, cowed and subservient,  is most deafening!


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman