The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Suhakam, has expressed its concern over “the irresponsible and confrontational actions” of certain protesters during Wednesday’s “red shirt” rally in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Suhakam chairman Hasmy Agam said the commission regretted that the gathering had turned “non-peaceful” when a group of participants pushed past police restriction lines in an attempt to reach certain parts of KL that the organisers and the police had initially agreed were prohibited.
“The commission is also perturbed by the irresponsible and confrontational actions of several participants for inciting lawless and disorderly behaviour by flaunting racially-charged placards and for uttering slogans that promoted racial or religious hatred in our multi-religious and secular society,” Hasmy (pictured left) said.
In the commission’s opinion, Hasmy said, such behaviour constituted the intentional provocation of violence that could not be condoned and must be dealt with appropriately.
“The commission reiterates that advocacy of racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence should be prohibited by law,” Hasmy added.
At Wednesday’s rally, which has variously been named “Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu” (the United People’s Rally), and “Himpunan Maruah Melayu” (the Malay Dignity Rally), demonstrators carried placards with such racially inflammatory slogans that translate as “Malaysia belongs to the Malays”, “Defend Malay rights”, and “Get rid of SJKC”, which refers to Chinese vernacular schools.
At least one Chinese journalist was insulted during the rally. According to media reports, one rallier called a reporter a “crazy Chinese pig”, among other insults.
Even this incident has been defended and downplayed in a troubling fashion by rally organiser and UMNO divisional leader Jamal Yunos, who says the Chinese should feel no slight in the remark as they consume pork.
He argued that the remark was only insulting to Malays as it is forbidden for Muslims to eat pork.
Rally turns violent
Wednesday’s rally degenerated into violence when a group of protesters tried to break through police barricades and push their way into the Petaling Street market area, where the mainly Chinese-owned stores were closed for fear of violence.
Police used a water cannon against the demonstrators and there were then lengthy negotiations before the protesters finally agreed to leave the area.
Police had given the “red shirt” ralliers permission to gather at Padang Merbok, but told the organisers that Petaling Street in Chinatown and Bukit Bintang, another heavily-Chinese area, were off-limits.
In the afternoon, however, about 5,000 demonstrators gathered in Chinatown.
Police assistant ground commander Roslan Abdul Wahid said protesters had started to push aggressively against the barricades set up by the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) riot squad in Chinatown.
The police had allowed three of the protesters to go into the Petaling Street market area to see that it was closed for business, Roslan said, but others in the crowd still demanded to be allowed entry.
Water cannon was used, Roslan said, when demonstrators started to throw projectiles at police. “We used a very minimum force, just to cool them down. Our intention was to disperse them, not to injure them.”
There was also tension in the Bukit Bintang area, where police wanted to keep the protesters away from Low Yat Plaza, which was the scene of unrest in July.
Many of the Malays at Wednesday’s rally were bussed in from areas outside of KL. There are allegations that large numbers of the protesters were given money to attend.
Numerous “red shirt” protesters are members and grassroots leaders of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). UNMO, which has been in power for the past 57 years, is the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. The government reserves numerous economic and other advantages for Muslim Malays.
The “red shirt” rally organisers include the former chief minister of Melaka, Mohamed Ali Rustam, and special affairs department chief Fuad Zakarshi.
UMNO denies being behind Wednesday’s protest, but the main organiser, the National Silat Federation (Pesaka), which is a martial arts organisation, is spearheaded by UMNO leaders. Mohamed Ali Rustam is the federation’s president.
UMNO members defend rally
The web portal UMNO Online quoted UMNO supreme council member Mohamed Sharkar Shamsudin as saying Wednesday’s rally was not racist and did not touch on the sensitivities of other races and faiths.
UMNO Online quoted Mohamed Sharkar as saying that the rally aimed to “teach a lesson” to those who try to cause trouble for the Malays and the Islamic religion.
Mohamed Sharkar was quoted as saying the rally was a historical moment in uniting Malays. “Malays have done this before in 1946 to thwart British plans (to form the Malayan Union) and to found UMNO, and now that Malays and Islam are challenged, we rise again to voice our stance and our feelings,” he reportedly said.
He was quoted as saying everyone should be tolerant to one another, and be willing to integrate, and understand the feelings of others. “This country is made of a variety of races and religions, so we should respect one another,” he was quoted as saying.
He was also quoted as saying, however, that Malay Muslims should not be provoked.
Mohamed Sharkar claimed that the participation at Wednesday’s rally exceeded 100,000 people. He said “opposition” media had underreported the figures.
The Selangor UMNO chief, Noh Omar, put the attendance figure at 200,000, whilst the Kuala Lumpur police estimated the turnout at 50,000.
The news portal Malaysiakini estimated that some 45,000 demonstrators turned out.
The deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man (pictured left), has criticised the actions of those who participated in Wednesday’s rally and said the protest was the work of UMNO.
Tuan Ibrahim advised people not to allow the rally to distract them from the serious financial scandals in Malaysia, and the depreciation of Malaysia’s currency, the ringgit.
He said people should not share photos of placards and banners with racist messages on social media.
“That is what they (UMNO) want – Malaysians to get caught up in racial issues. Do not let them trick you into getting distracted,” he said.
According to Malaysiakini, Gelang Patah MP Lim Kit Siang, who is parliamentary leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), has called on the prime minister, Najib Razak, and his cabinet to apologise to Malaysians for their “shameful abdication of responsibility” in allowing Malaysia Day to be desecrated by the “red shirt” rally.
Wednesday’s rally was held on the national holiday that commemorates the founding of the Malaysian federation in 1963.
The DAP is a main target of the “red shirt” protesters. Lim Kit Siang was one of the opposition politicians who was targetted in placards carried by “red shirt” demonstrators.
He said: “The nation was treated to a day of infamy and shame when thousands of Red Shirts, with the blessings of the prime minister and his deputy, descended on Kuala Lumpur to trumpet Malay supremacy, sow fear of impending violence and incite hatred against other races, particularly the Chinese.”
He added: “Words cannot describe the sense of shame and disgust that I felt seeing Malays in red shirts – men and women alike – chanting racist slogans and expressions of contempt and hatred against the other communities.”
Was this UMNO’s best idea for shoring up support for the prime minister, Azmin Ali asked, “whipping up anti-Chinese, anti-DAP sentiment and engaging in acts of provocation like marching to Low Yat and Petaling Street?”
By saying that racism was in line with Islamic teachings and that such a rally, even though racist, was endorsed by the Islamic religion, UMNO had added insult to injury and had committed great dishonour to Islam and Malay dignity, he added.
“The leaders responsible for this day of infamy are now forever tainted with having violated the unwritten code of conduct as a nation – to treat all the communities with honour, dignity and respect. They should be seized with remorse and overcome by shame – if there is any self-respect left in them.”
PKR MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is the eldest daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, also condemned Wednesday’s rally, saying that such racist action did not uphold Malay dignity.
“To defend Malay dignity, we should wake up and combat narrow racism, fight corruption, expose the scandal of 1MDB, and restore the country’s integrity,” Nurul Izzah ((pictured left) said in a statement.
She was referring to the accusations againt Najib that centre on the debt-laden state fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
It was reported in July that investigators who were looking into alleged mismanagement at the sovereign wealth fund had traced a payment of more than 2.6 billion ringgit (about 620 million US$) to an account in Najib’s name.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission says the funds came from a donor in the Middle East. The donation was made just before the 2013 election.
Former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, says he doesn’t believe the money was a donation, and has called for Najib to step down. Najib denies any wrongdoing and says he has not taken any money for personal gain.
Malaysia Day should be celebrated and expressed by fostering closer ties between people and removing all the racism that exists in the country, Nurul Izzah said.
Trying to counter Bersih 4
A main aim of Wednesday’s rally was to counter the 34-hour Bersih 4 rally held on August 29 and 30, which brought at least 80,000 people out onto the streets and went off peacefully. The “red shirts” say Bersih 4 was a show of force by a group dominated by the Chinese, and was anti-Malay.
The Bersih demonstrators called for Najib Razak’s resignation. They want parliamentary democracy to be strengthened and are demanding that the right to dissent should be preserved. The country’s economy, they say, has to be rescued.
Anwar says the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies and the verdict has been strongly criticised both locally and internationally.
Two “red shirt” demonstrators, aged 24 and 30, are being investigated under Section 143 of the Penal Code. They allegedly tried to instigate the crowd to break through the police barricades in Petaling Street.
The human rights commission praised the police for their handling of Wednesday’s rally. Suhakam monitored the gathering and wished to recognise the “significant positive developments” with regard to the handling and management of the rally by police, Hasmy Agam said.
“These must be commended and recognised as good practices and should be consistently maintained in any future peaceful assembly,” he added.
There have been numerous demands for police investigation into incidents at the rally, the racially insulting placards and banners, and the calls for the abolition of Chinese vernacular schools.
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