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Jan 6, 2008

Police break up rally to protest detention without trial law

The Associated Press
Published: January 5, 2008

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Banging batons against their shields, Malaysian police Saturday chased away hundreds of demonstrators who held a candlelight vigil to protest against a decades-old law allowing indefinite detention without trial.

A water cannon fired a single burst to drive away the last stragglers among the crowd in downtown Kuala Lumpur, ending a 90-minute standoff.

Police had banned the rally to protest the Internal Security Act. It was the latest in a series of protests that had rocked the government in recent months. Any gathering of more than four people requires a police permit.

"It is a peaceful gathering just to send a message that all citizens have a right to voice their feelings," said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, chairman of the Abolish ISA Movement that organized the rally.

"This law is unjust. I think it is time to voice our human rights," he said, adding that the group would hold more protests.

About 300 people lit candles and gathered behind a police barricade that prevented them from marching to the nearby Independence Square, where they had originally planned to hold the protest.

Police gave them 15 minutes to disperse, during which the protesters chanted "No ISA!" before being pushed back by riot police and a water cannon truck.

The crowd retreated but gathered again about 100 meters (330 feet) from the police barricade. After a while, riot police began chasing protesters away. One person was seen being dragged away by police but it was unclear if he has been arrested.

Police officials declined to comment.

Malaysian opposition and human rights groups have repeatedly called for the ISA, a colonial-era law allowing indefinite detention without trial, to be repealed, saying the law is abused to silence dissidents. The government has said it is necessary to protect national security and ensure stability.

The ISA was most recently used to detain five ethnic Indian leaders who organized a massive rally on Nov. 25 to demand equal right for their minority community in the Muslim-majority country.

Saturday's protest was not as large as the one on Nov. 25 involving some 20,000 people, but still reflected growing anger among Malaysians against the law.

"We have heard firsthand experiences of ISA detainees. I cringed when I heard how they were tortured," said Lim Sze Ming, a 29-year-old engineer. "The law has to go."


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