GEORGETOWN, Oct 12 – A peaceful gathering to repeal the Sedition Act in Penang was called off after a newly-formed right-wing Malay group, which includes Perkasa, heckled the speakers and chased away people who gathered for the event. Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH) coordinator Ong Jin Cheng’s speech was cut short after the Persatuan Gabungan Melayu Islam Pulau Pinang heckled him as Ong took the stage at about 6pm.
Armed with a hailer, they drowned out Ong’s voice as he was delivering his speech at the Speaker’s Square today. The group, numbering about 30 people, then surrounded Ong but GHAH supporters and several policemen at the scene prevented him from harm by the group. Ong, who was just two minutes into his speech, was then whisked away for his own safety.
During the commotion, a bunch of rowdy Malays from the group were also spotted attacking a British couple who happened to be in the area. They chased the pair all the way to the other end of the Padang Kota Lama field while hurling obscenities and calling them “Jews”. Some of the group were also spotted wearing white T-shirts with the words “Defend the Sedition Act”.
Bersih north peninsular vice-chairman Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon and other civil liberties activists, who were present shouted back at the mob: “Shame on you!” When contacted later, Ong said he was pushed by the group, but came away safe. Aliran committee member Dr Prema Devaraj, who was also at the gathering, said the aggressive and threatening behaviour at the Speakers’ Square was “a shocking demonstration of a growing trend of intolerance and fascist element”.
“Where is the moderate Malaysia the prime minister spoke about earlier this month at the 69th United Nations general assembly in New York?” she asked. “In a democracy, it is imperative that the police are trained to manage groups with opposing views to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and speech in public spaces is upheld,” she added.
In his speech earlier, Ong had managed to say that Suaram’s monitoring has shown that 45 people have been arrested, investigated, charged or convicted under the Sedition Act this year. “They include journalists, students, academics, lawyers, ustaz, political party members, activists and so on,” he said, ignoring the hoots and shouts of the mob that surrounded him.
Of these, almost 40 cases were recorded in August and September, he added. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had in July 2012 announced the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948. However, since the 13th general election in May last year, there has been a slew of people targetted under the Act. GHAH is supported by 128 bodies, including Suaram, Lawyers for Liberty, Amnesty International Malaysia, Aliran and Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia.
Its Penang outfit said it has chartered a bus to ferry those interested to join the Bar Council’s march against the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16. GHAH, in a statement, described today’s incident as yet another demonstration of “premeditated and organised attacks” against demands for broadening of democratic rights and freedoms.
It claimed the police did not stop the violent disruption and only intervened when the situation went out of control and the mob started pushing, chasing and cornering GHAH supporters and bystanders. “The police could have stepped in earlier to facilitate freedom of speech for both groups. However, this didn’t happen.” it said.
GHAH added that the violent episode would not deter its focus. Besides wanting the repeal, the NGO demanded all charges under the Sedition Act to be dropped, those convicted to be released, and no replacement legislation of similar draconian provisions.