The high-handed and arbitrary police arrests of eight people, including five lawyers, for the peaceful march to mark the International Human Rights Day in Kuala Lumpur this morning has marred the celebration of Human Rights Day and blotted Malaysia’s international image on human rights.

The arrest of the eight, including five lawyers, N Surendran, Latheefa Koya, R Sivarasa, Eric Paulsen and Amer Hamzah, and human rights activists Anthony Andu and Norazah Othman in totally unprovoked circumstances is a great shame for the Abdullah premiership, as the some 100 people who had gathered at Sogo Department store in Kuala Lumpur to march to the Central Market in the federal capital clearly posed no threat to anyone, let alone national security, public order or peace.

Why couldn’t the police leave the marchers alone, only taking action if they pose a threat to national order or security, eschewing all forms of police over-reaction which can only add to the list of adverse international publicity which had been piling for Malaysia in recent months.

The police arrests of the eight on International Human Rights Day is doubly ominous for it is a clear symbol that the Abdullah premiership, which had started with the false promise of greater respect for human rights, has finally taken off its velvet glove to show the iron fist within to crush expressions of human rights in the country.

It makes total nonsense of Royal Police Commission headed by former Chief Justice, Tun Dzaiddin Abdullah which had identified upholding human rights as one of the three core objectives of the Police force in the 21st century – the other two being to keep crime low and to eradicate corruption in the police service.

Suhakam has also been calling for a revamp of police mentality on human rights, to transform the police stance of innate hostility to human rights to that of an agent and ally of change to promote and protect the human rights of Malaysians. Clearly, Suhakam’s various proposals to mainstream human rights in police mindset and strategy have fallen on deaf ears.

Abdullah has been Prime Minister for four years and is starting his fifth year as Malaysian premier. The institutions, instruments and mentality of repression of human rights have not been dismantled in the past four years of Abdullah premiership, which means that there has been no basic difference from the Mahathir premiership as the draconian laws and powers can be dusted off any time to crack down on human rights and democratic freedoms in Malaysia.

The eight arrested today in connection with the Human Rights Day march should be released forthwith and Abdullah should direct the police to undertake a full review of its mindset and modus operandi to ensure that the police are attuned to the Merdeka Constitution and Rukunegara principles which give pride of place to democracy and human rights as important national objectives.

I will raise in Parliament tomorrow the high-handed and arbitrary police arrests of the eight on international Human Rights Day and demand a public apology by the police.

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