KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — Human rights watchdog Proham today called for a halt to “acts of intimidation” against Bersih co-chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.
The group referred to two recent protests in front of Ambiga’s house: yesterday’s “bum exercise” by army veterans and last Thursday’s “burger protest” by traders seeking compensation for losses they claim to have suffered during the Bersih 3.0 rally.
Proham described the two protests as “improper, inappropriate and in bad taste in view of the invasion of her privacy and the religious sensitivities involved” in a joint statement by Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Professor Hamdan Adnan and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria.
“What is more worrying is the insensitivity of selling beef burgers in front of an individual who is a vegetarian and a Hindu,” said Proham, pointing to the “burger protest”.
During the protest, about 10 traders from Ikhlas prepared about 200 burgers outside Ambiga’s house and offered some to Ambiga, who is vegetarian.
Proham likened the action to an incident in August 2009, when a cow’s head was used in a protest against the relocation of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam.
As “authorities including the local council and police seem to turn a blind eye” to such incidents, Proham said these “set precedents” for similarly-themed protests.
Police have said they will not act against those behind the “burger protest”, saying it was not an offence “if you want to sit in front of her house without disrupting other people.”
“They didn’t enter her house, they were in a public space,” Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar had said, adding that under the recently-enforced Peaceful Assembly Act all parties should be allowed to conduct peaceful gatherings.
Proham urged the police and local authorities to “ensure that the perception of ... selective enforcement and justice is not created in the public mind” by carrying out “responsible policing and local government enforcement.”
The watchdog had earlier this month “expressed serious concerns” over the burning of Ambiga’s photo and calls for the revocation of her citizenship, calling them an attempt to “demonise” the former Bar Council president.
Proham also appealed for an end to “demonstrations in private residential areas” and the avoidance of “direct personal intimidation” and culturally insensitive acts.
The protests against Ambiga come after chaotic scenes in Kuala Lumpur on April 28 when police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse Bersih supporters following a breach of the police barricade around Dataran Merdeka.
The April 28 rally that saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Ambiga asked the crowd to disperse.
But her call was not heard by most of the crowd who persisted around the historic square which the court had already barred to the public over the weekend.
Just before 3pm, some protestors breached the barricade surrounding the landmark, leading police to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.
Police then continued to pursue the rally-goers down several streets amid chaotic scenes which saw violence from both sides over the next four hours.