Activists hold candle-light vigil in Penang on a dark day for democracy


candlelight vigil 13 Dec 07

Some two dozen activists and other concerned Malaysians held a candlelight vigil in central George Town, Penang to uphold the right to freedom of assembly on a day which saw five Hindraf leaders detained under the ISA.

The small crowd, which included Aliran and Suaram members, gathered at 8.50pm at the Penang Road/Kimberley Road junction, under the watchful eyes of Big Brother. A couple of dozen police personnel were present, too close for comfort. According to a source at the scene, quite a few others in plainclothes were loitering about, apart from about 20 reporters covering the event.

The police did not allow those gathered to use a loud-hailer or to read out their declaration in three languages. They even blamed them for causing traffic congestion! So, the small crowd was ordered to disperse but not before these concerned Malaysian broke out in song – “We shall overcome”.

Total vigil time allowed – 20 minutes.

As the Aliran executive committee said, in a statement condemning the ISA arrests, the BN has criminalised all our freedoms.

We cannot walk as a group, we cannot put up a banner on our own building, we cannot have access to information, we cannot challenge any ministerial decisions in any court of law, we cannot have a reasonable campaign period prior to election, we cannot have equal radio and TV time for all registered political parties to reach out to citizens to explain party policies, we cannot have a licence as a matter of right to publish. Our basic fundamental rights and freedoms have all been taken away through subsidiary laws and regulations. We are reminded by what was said way back in 163 BC: Extreme law is often extreme injustice.

But we shall overcome.

No matter how dark the night might be, all it takes is a single candle to break through the darkness.

Imagine, the authorities are afraid of a candle-light vigil! That says a lot. It suggests a government that is afraid of its own shadows – shadows dancing on the wall, as the people pour into the streets, like a sea of candles, flames flickering and illuminating the dark, musty corridors of power.

The ISA arrests today mark a new low in the administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. It is the first time that Abdullah has used the ISA against prominent critics of his adminstration. It also reveals that the government has run out of ideas, unable or unwilling to tackle the root causes of the problems that plague the people.

Earlier this evening, I received a phone call from an angry Indian Malaysian – furious with the ISA arrests, angry with the government-controlled media and certain columnists who have demonised Hindraf or played down their grievances, frustrated with the more affluent non-Tamil Indian Malaysians (Punjabis, Gujeratis, Malayalis, etc) for not sympathising with Tamil Malaysians. He told me there are many other Indian Malaysians who are ready to follow the Hindraf Five into the Kamunting detention centre.

His tone was one of anger and defiance. He could not accept that the Hindraf leaders’ poor choice of words had weakened the way they had articulated their legitimate grievances and exposed them to criticism.

From what he said, it appears that the Hindraf movement is largely Tamil-based and includes sympathisers from a small group of wealthier Tamil Malaysians. Even though these sympathisers may be better off now, they remember how hard it was for them to escape from the cycle of poverty, he said.

I suggested to him that the movement should broaden its worldview to perceive the struggle for justice in broader, more multi-ethnic terms – for the issues of marginalisation, exploitation and oppression cut across all ethnic groups. I reminded him of the Penan displaced from their native customary land, the poor indigenous communities living in the interior areas of Sabah and Sarawak, and the Malays on the east coast of the peninsula – who ironically remain poor despite the considerable offshore oil reserves in these regions.

But his frustration and anger over the grievances was so palpable that he could not see beyond ethnic boundaries for now – though he did tell me he would like to see the Bersih and Hindraf movements coming together.

Meanwhile, there is a crisis of democracy – a crisis because the BN government has become increasingly afraid of people on the move. It has resorted to brandishing the familiar ISA, which by its own admission, would only be used as a “last resort”. That “last resort” point has been reached. Now what?

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Eye on Penang
Eye on Penang
14 Dec 2007 2.38pm

The BN government should be afraid of the people,
because the people are no longer afraid of the BN government.

The truth, justice and human dignity will overcome all the corruption, lies and distortions, the plundering of the countries assets and all the other misdeeds which have become almost the norm in Malaysia.

The voters will speak loudly with their anti BN votes.

14 Dec 2007 2.00pm

The only way to tackle this BN + ISA problem is to face them during the General election ! thats the only weapon that every grieving Indians have on hand. They should vote the opposition. Enough of supporting the BN. Voting them will only bring discrimination now and then. I’am a HINDRAF supporter myself, from the recent information i get from other HINDRAF supporter, many states penang, KL, perak, johor where the indians live are angry with the goverments last resort of ISA. At first they claim sediction then they claim terrorists imediately after ISA… Where is the fair justice… Read more »

14 Dec 2007 10.47am

Even if one Malaysian has a grievance the govt. of the day should give a ear to his/her problem because it would make a world of difference for that individual when his/her voice has been heard. It is a group of individuals that make the population and individuals differ even though they may be racially and religiously a group. The govt. should try to help when and where possible to ease the burdens of individuals. So it is not wrong for individuals to voice out opinions to their elected govt. The govt. of the day should not view opinions as… Read more »

14 Dec 2007 4.49pm

Wonder if PDRM got their training from Israel? I see alot of similarities.

15 Dec 2007 12.12am

Dear respected sir, I have read your web and find it very intresting because it refelects the facts as what is happening in our belovered countery MALAYSIA. I would humbely wish to point out my view (which I may be right or wrong) on matters concerning HINDRAF. To the best of my knowledge HINDRAF started of as a group to defend the Indians who were detained by the Police and brutelity and killing by the authoritys. There after followred by the demoilsition of the HINDU tempels and the margnalization of the Indian community (irrespective of religion)in the countery (some of… Read more »

Concerned citizen
Concerned citizen
17 Dec 2007 1.03am

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

jeremiah 33:3