I contribured this for my column, Chiaroscuro, in malaysiakini (www.malaysiakini.com) yesterday, 15 Mar 01.
The police threaten Malaysians with sedition, when once it was the Internal Security Act. You can now be arrested for sedition if you spread rumours, and if you make statements, as an opposition party member, that suggests the a government unfit to govern should be toppled. But not if you support the National Front and UMNO and make statements that inflame. If you disbelieve the police version of events and express it, it is sedition. But only for some.
Now, malaysiakini, PAS and Keadilan have fallen foul for reporting deaths which the police insist is exaggerated. The only true figure for how many died is the official police version. The three, in the government's convoluted logic, anti-national. So, the police lodge a report against them.
But this is a sandiwara. Since when did the police have to lodge a police report when a crime is committed? Do they not have powers of arrest without it? Or is it to put them on notice that if they do not fall in line, worse awaits them? If a crime is committed, the police should go and make the arrest.
Earlier, the Keadilan youth chief, Ezam Mohamed Noor, is charged with sedition, but not Utusan Malaysia, in the National Front stable, which reported his alleged words. The police, quick to show it means business when reports are made against the opposition parties by National Front parties, charged him. It has done nothing to charge a National Front state assemblywoman for a more horrendous sedition, a statement no one should make for it inflames, and more serious than Ezam's threat to topple the government. Why not?
Sedition should not be used to threaten. Public doubts, especially of police inaction in affected areas of the communal clashes in Petaling Jaya will grow as the government reacts like a headless chicken. After ignoring the area for decades, it now rushes to re-develop area with low-cost homes. It is now so squalid and so demeaning and hopeless for the 160,000 who live there and the problem so extensive that one must question how the state government intends to carry this out.
So, is this a reaction to what happened? I would imagine so. When the deputy prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, visited the area on Monday, he did not say anything about it. When was the study made? Why was it not announced, for instance, during the 1999 general elections? Or when the Selangor mentri besar, Mohamed Khir Toyo, was heckled?
It is this driving by the seat of its pants that angers people. The Chinese school in Damansara gets special treatment because it is a political issue. The squalid urban sprawl is in need of help because the Malays, the mainstay of the government's support, desert it in droves that should elections be held today it would lost its comfortable two-thirds majority. So, lowcost houses promised but not built over the years would now be.
But this is the only urban sprawl that needs help? Of course, not! So, the inevitable message emerges that if you do not scream, you would not be attended to. We have two examples: Kampung Medan and the Damansara chinese school. The Kampung Medan screams bothered the residents of Putra Jaya, in their lonely gilded splendour enough to do what it now wants to. That the area had to be heavily guarded before cabinet ministers and National Front politicians visited the area even more so.
Is this how the needs of the people are met? Should they have to scream for what they can reasonable expect from the government? What frightens is that Kampung Medan is not the only urban sprawl ready to explode. There are pockets in the Klang Valley, built over the years in this rush to modernisation, people coming in search of jobs and live in shanty towns that grow up in the vicinity of modernity.
The police can threaten all and sundry with sedition if its statements are disbelieved. Does it really matter, this stickler for the law, when the face of modernity that Petaling Jaya represents has several cancerous squalid urban sprawls that could engulf them in a moment of madness, and no one is bothered about it.
When the police should have co-opted the press, as it did in 1969, when reporters knew why they had to be circumspect in their reports, it threatens. Sedition is the latest weapon. No doubt, some would fall foul of it. But would it resolve the problem that Kampung Medan brought into the public domain?