The Wayang Kulit that is our Malaysian Establishment

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If you’re at the Malaysian Night at Trafalgar Square, London tonight, do stop by to watch and support the ‘Wayang Kulit against the ISA’. The first performance will be at 7.30pm and will be replayed at regular intervals throughout the night.

By Sydney Sasson

What happens when you take an internet blogging prince who is married to a beautiful Siamese princess (the prince’s faithful companion and constant source of support and strength) and the story of how he faithfully blogged day and night to restore justice, democracy and the rule of law to our beloved ‘One Malaysia’ only to be arrested and incarcerated under the Internal Security Act, and transpose this fairy-tale onto a wayang kulit screen, bringing it to an international audience in the great democratic space of Trafalgar Square, London that has long been the nerve centre and pulse of peaceful demonstration, including that of the anti-apartheid movement and campaign to liberate Nelson Mandela?

Well, interestingly, you get a bunch of Malaysian embassy officials getting pretty hot under the collar and jamming the phone lines of Charring Cross police station, asking for the peaceful, law-abiding demonstration to be called off.

On Wednesday afternoon the organisers of the ‘Wayang Kulit Against the ISA’ received a phone call from a very pleasant, open-minded and efficient Police Constable attached to Charring Cross Police Station. The PC was well aware of the reasons behind the protest, and the peaceful manner in which the protest was to be carried out. The organisers had contacted Westminster Police seven weeks in advance to state their intentions and the manner in which they planned to proceed (in the UK, a police ‘permit’ or ‘permission’ is not needed for peaceful demonstration as the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech is a basic Constitutional right). However, responsible event organisers will know that it is always best practice to notify the police so that all parties are kept aware of the plan of action and the police are able to provide support and assistance (yes, that’s right – support and assistance, not arbitrary arrest and dispersal with water-cannons and tear gas) as needed. Don’t fall off your bangku or choke on your roti canai whilst reading this.

Anyway, the polite and efficient PC enquired as to whether the organisers were aware that there was another event taking place at Trafalgar Square at the same time; The Malaysian Kitchen Food Festival organised by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation. The organisers explained that indeed they were aware of this concurrent event, and this was the precise reason why a peaceful wayang kulit was being organised to educate the general public and highlight the human rights abuses and threats to civil liberties that take place under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act.

The PC then informed the organisers that the Malaysian Embassy had asked for the protest to be called off. He had of course explained that the police had no authority or power to do so, as the demonstration was a peaceful one, and from extensive previous contact with Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA-UK, they had shown themselves to be a reasonable bunch of law abiding persons, who would conduct themselves in a mature and well organised manner.

The embassy officials then asked the police to agree to block the entry of any of the protestors into the square. Again the police had to patiently explain that this was unlawful, as every member of the public has a right to move freely in a public space, provided they behave in a lawful manner.

Third time lucky? The embassy officials then asked the police to agree to cordon off the demonstrators in an enclosed pen-like space with barricades. Again Westminster police refused, stating they saw no reason why peaceful demonstrators needed to be treated like cattle.

So there you have it – the wayang kulit that is our Malaysian establishment.

So why a wayang kulit against the ISA at what is essentially a Malaysian Cultural night? As one of the organisers explained, “We fully support the Malaysian government’s initiative to promote Malaysian culture and tourism on an international stage but we are establishing a peaceful and cultural tongue-in-cheek anti-ISA presence at the Malaysian Kitchen event to remind them that if they want world-wide recognition, they must also respect international norms on human rights and the rule of law.

In June this year the UN working group on arbitrary detention visited Malaysia and concluded that the ISA must be repealed and torture in detention brought to an immediate end. Najib and his government have yet to show any real commitment to repealing the ISA. To this end we call on the Malaysian government to repeal the ISA and sign and abide by the UN convention against torture, that it may earn the respect and admiration of both the international community and the citizens it serves.”

*If you’re at the Malaysian Night at Trafalgar Square, London tonight, do stop by to watch and support the ‘Wayang Kulit against the ISA’. The first performance will be at 7.30pm and will be replayed at regular intervals throughout the night.