Mat Sabu: Saturday rally to proceed at Stadium Merdeka

Authorities say they have learned from the lessons of the previous Bersih rallies in the city. — File picAuthorities say they have learned from the lessons of the previous Bersih rallies in the city. — File picKUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 ― The Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat mass rally will go on as planned at Stadium Merdeka tomorrow, PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu has confirmed, pointing out that the police have not formally requested the organisers move the event to Stadium Bukit Jalil instead.

He told The Malaysian Insider last night that an agreement with the police had been reached and even inked, with both parties agreeing to the event venue and certain security conditions posed on rally organisers.

“No police order issued asking us to move. I have spoken to the Dang Wangi OCPD (officer in charge of a police district) and it was a good discussion, and everything is in order,” he insisted when contacted over the phone.

“Our assembly will be at Stadium Merdeka,” the PAS leader popularly known as Mat Sabu said earlier during PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar’s fundraising dinner at the Thean Hou temple here last night.

He was responding to Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Mohmad Salleh who had said last night that the mass rally should be moved to the Bukit Jalil venue, which has a larger seating capacity than Stadium Merdeka.

“In view of the organiser’s goal of gathering one million participants, it is logical to hold the rally at Stadium Nasional Bukit Jalil,” the police officer had said in the statement.

But Mat Sabu insisted that this was a non-issue, pointing repeatedly to the signed agreement between rally organisers and the police earlier yesterday evening.

He acknowledged that the invitation to Bukit Jalil was mentioned, but said the owners of the iconic Merdeka Stadium had already given the nod to organisers to use the venue for tomorrow’s gathering.

When asked for the organisers’ plans should the police insist on a venue switch, the PAS leader reminded again of the signed agreement with the police.

“But do not worry, there will be no trouble,” he assured. “It will be a very peaceful, historic moment for all of Malaysia.”

“Our assembly will be at Stadium Merdeka.”

PKR vice-president N. Surendran, who was also at the dinner, pointed out that Article 10 of the Federal Constitution guaranteed the right to assemble peacefully.

“This government has to understand that they cannot bully the Malaysian people anymore,” he said to rousing applause and cheers in the packed hall.

“Whether they permit us to go to Stadium Merdeka or they don’t permit us on January 12, Saturday, we are all going to Stadium Merdeka,” added Surendran, who is also a lawyer.

At the time of writing, it is unclear why the authorities chose to seek a change of venues so close to date of the planned rally or if the request was a formal instruction or merely made on advisement.

But if organisers refuse to move their rally, a showdown with police may ensue, despite assurances made by the authorities to prevent a repeat of last April’s violence during the Bersih assembly in the city.

The January 12 mega-rally will see the involvement of civil society movements pushing for various demands ahead of Election 2013, including the scrapping of the Lynas rare-earth plant in Kuantan, the promise of fair royalty payments to oil-producing states, free education and a fair polls process.

Rally organisers target a turnout of one million people who are expected to wear the signature colours of their causes ― anti-Lynas groups’ fluorescent green, Bersih 2.0’s eye-catching yellow, the anti-FGVH movement’s orange and the striking red of pro-oil royalty groups.

In a meeting with rally organisers on Tuesday, the police pledged to facilitate the mammoth event, which is also endorsed by the federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR), and will work to make it a peaceful event.

According to PKR secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar had said that this rally is will be a “historic moment” where lessons are learned from the past.

He described the hour-long meeting at the Bukit Aman headquarters as “conducive”, saying that the discussion revolved around the rally and the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012.

Yesterday, the police also pledged to ensure the safety of journalists covering the event.

ACP Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf, the assistant head of the IGP Secretariat (Public Relations) Bukit Aman, admitted that the police and the media had “bitter experiences” in the past.

Electoral reforms group Bersih 2.0 had tried in 2011 to organise its rally for free and fair elections at the same Stadium Merdeka venue but was turned down by the Najib Cabinet at the last minute.

Rally-goers proceeded anyway to throng the streets of the capital on July 9, 2011, resulting in a scene of chaos as riot police invaded the event armed with tear gas and water cannons.

The event marked a milestone in the growth of civil society in Malaysia and the widespread international condemnation against the government’s hard-handed tactics on protesters, propelled the Najib administration into action.

Two major changes ensued. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 was enacted to regulate public gatherings and the government formed a parliamentary select committee for electoral reforms to look into Bersih 2.0’s requests.

But Bersih 2.0 organised another rally last year, after claiming that the reforms were insufficient and insincere, and despite provisions in the new Act on public gatherings, the group’s April 28 event turned out to be even more violent than the previous one.

This time, rally-goers gathered for a peaceful “sit-in” protest at the historic Merdeka Square, which the authorities cordoned off after obtaining a court order to bar participants from entering the venue.


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