Asserting freedom of speech, Malay right-wingers say Penang Speaker’s Square causes havoc

Thumping its right to free speech against the Sedition Act, a coalition of right-wing Malay NGOs which disrupted a peaceful protest in Penang on Sunday blames the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state government for promoting freedom of expression by opening up the Speaker’s Square.

Published: 15 October 2014

Persatuan Gabungan Melayu Islam Pulau Pinang general-secretary Ahmad Yakuub Nazri said the square along George Town’s Esplanade, opened four years ago, was being used to instigate people and “cause havoc” in Penang.

“The move by the state government to allow a Speaker’s Square and to allow freedom of speech is causing havoc, fights and all sorts of incidents.

“This is the result of the state government’s move to give space to people for the freedom of speech,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Yakuub’s coalition of Malay Islamic groups, which includes Perkasa, had come to the square on Sunday evening to protest a peaceful demonstration by Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (GHAH) which called on Putrajaya to abolish the Sedition Act.

The counter-protest turned into a ruckus when GHAH Penang coordinator Ong Jing Cheng attempted to give a speech. He was heckled by a mob and shouted down with a loud hailer.

Some in the group that turned up to quash the GHAH rally wore T-shirts that displayed support for the Sedition Act. They surrounded Ong who was eventually whisked to safety by other GHAH supporters.

The Malay groups also chased away a British couple who had come to the square to watch the GHAH demonstration. A video of the incident posted on YouTube by GHAH shows obscene words being shouted at the couple.

GHAH is made up of 128 NGOs, including Suaram, Lawyers for Liberty, Amnesty International Malaysia, Aliran and  Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia.

Yakuub said that the authorities could not blame the Muslim NGOs who were also acting on the principle of free speech.

He said they were against repealing the Sedition Act to avoid “untoward incidents” which he said were on the rise now since the Internal Security Act, which allowed for detention without trial, had been abolished in 2012.

“We support Putrajaya in defending the Sedition Act. This is all happening because the ISA was abolished. Imagine if the Sedition Act was also abolished,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

“If they are so keen to allow the people to speak, this is what will happen.

“We were also there on the basis of freedom of speech. We can also say what we want,” Yakuub said.

“Every Sunday, from 6pm to 7pm, we are free to say what we want at the Speaker’s Square, it does not matter whether it is to instigate people.

“This is after all, the state government’s programme,” he said.

The Speaker’s Square was opened in May 2010 by the state government to promote the freedom of speech. It is open every Wednesday and Sunday from 6pm to 9pm for the public to give speeches.

Yakuub said GHAH’s rally on Sunday was “masterminded” by human rights group Suaram to challenge the federal constitution.

The presence of the British couple, he added, was proof that there were foreigners whom he said were “agents”.

“We found out that GHAH is backed by Suaram. They just want to provoke the government and challenge the constitution.

“Based on that, we, the Coalition of Penang Islamic NGOs, gathered to ensure that their demonstration would fail and Alhamdulillah, it did.

“We found that the move by Suaram was backed by outsiders, there were white people there also. We know these are foreign agents who are disguised as tourists.

“We will make a police report and want to determine who these individuals are,” Yakuub said.

On the coalition, Yakuub said it comprised 52 Muslim NGOs that were set up after the 2008 general election.

He said the coalition obtained its funding from participating NGOs, all of which he said were registered bodies.

“The names of the NGOs need not be mentioned. We are all united as one, we do not need to specify which NGO we are from.

“We are united in wanting to defend the constitution,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

Past reports stated that among the participating NGOs in the coalition are Persatuan Melayu Tanjung (Permata), Pertubuhan Pribumi Perkasa Malaysia (Perkasa), Persatuan Muka Buku, Pertubuhan Kebajikan Al Ehsan Islamiah Malaysia (Al-Ehsan), and Persatuan Warga Cinta Negara Malaysia (Pencinta). – October 15, 2014.