Singapore lawyers to call on Law Society to set up human rights committee

Singapore Democrats
09 Dec 07

Malaysian lawyers and activists march, before being stopped by police, through the downtown of Kuala Lumpur December 9, 2007. Malaysian police halted an annual human-rights march on Sunday, arresting at least four people and drawing widespread criticism for being intolerant of dissent. (Stringer/Reuters)A couple of members of the Law Society will call on the organisation to set up a committee to look into human rights issues in Singapore.

Lawyers Mr M Ravi and Mr Chia Ti Lik told listeners at a gathering at Speakers Corner this afternoon to mark International Human Rights Day on 10 Dec.

The two lawyers will be at the Law Society office on South Bridge Road together with members of SgHumanRights at 2 pm tomorrow to present the petition.

Singapore’s Law Society has remained conspicuously quiet on Human rights Day. It also continues to shy away from engaging the PAP Government on rule of law issues even though the abuse of Executive power has been rampant.

Meanwhile across the causeway, lawyers are at the forefront of championing the rights of Malaysians (see below).

Opposition parties have also supported their efforts with parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang condemning the Malaysians heavy-handedness in dealing with the lawyers.

Malaysian police halt human-rights day march
09 Dec 07

Malaysian police halted an annual human-rights march on Sunday, arresting about eight people and drawing sharp criticism for being intolerant of dissent.

Some 60 people, including a dozen lawyers, carried banners and leaflets in defiance of both official warnings and the Malaysian Bar Council, which withdrew its support for the march after police crackdowns on other recent demonstrations.

Street protests are illegal in Malaysia unless sanctioned by police, though lawyers involved in Sunday’s unauthorized march said they were exercising a constitutional right to free speech.

“We have definitely made our point and it shows how ridiculous the government and the police are in this overwhelming show of force which is completely unnecessary,” said lawyer Jonson Chong.

Police and reporters outnumbered demonstrators in the walk that lasted for just 20 minutes. Police sealed off Merdeka (Independence) Square, scene of unprecedented anti-government protests in the late 1990s, in anticipation of the march.

Demonstrators wore white surgical masks, signifying government gags on free speech. One banner read: “Lawyers for Freedom of Assembly.”

Malaysia was rocked by two major street protests last month involving a total of more than 20,000 people, the biggest anti-government demonstrations in a decade, over separate issues of electoral reform and the rights of minority ethnic Indians.

The protest by ethnic Indians, which drew about 10,000 people onto the streets of the capital, was especially unsettling for the government because it focused on the sensitive and potentially explosive issue of race relations.

Malaysia is dominated politically by ethnic Malays, though they make up only a slender majority of the population. Ethnic Chinese, who make up about a third, dominate business. Ethnic Indians, at about 7 percent, complain they are marginalized.

Relations between the three main ethnic groups are often strained, though there has not been a major race riot since 1969.

The government says it is taking a tough stand against street demonstrations because it fears they could lead to violence, but opposition parties say the government is merely using this fear as a pretext to clamp down on free speech and popular dissent.

Reporting by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Jerry Norton

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