In most countries, citizens are taught to respect their national anthem by standing still when it is sung.
Malaysian riot police last night taught a 100-strong crowd calling for free and fair elections a very different lesson: singing national anthem without the police approval may get you beaten up and arrested.
The police accused the crowd was gathering illegally even though Malaysia’s constitution guarantees the citizens’ freedom of peaceful assembly.
Normally, the police would issue warning for participants of illegal gathering – a group of minimum three or five persons (according to different laws) qualifies to be one – to disperse within three to five minutes. Most organizers can even count on to negotiate for a longer period.
The crowd was therefore completely caught off-guard by the attacks as they were singing “Negaraku” to end their programme. The police seemed to be annoyed by their singing and could not wait to stop them by charging into them violently.
Dian Abdullah, 53, found the back of her head bleeding after several policemen attacked her from the back and caused her to fall. She was however left unattended by the police who went on to arrest her son, Mohd Khairuz, 24 who was also singing the national anthem.
Dian Abdullah was later sent to hospital by a passer-by. Her injury required four stitches.
Also arrested are 23 other participants, including one parliamentarian, one state assemblymen and a local councilor. Both the federal and the state lawmaker complained being manhandled or punched.
The Selangor State Chief Police Officer Khalid Abu Bakar called a press conference later in the midnight. He offered neither apology nor explanation for the attacks of citizen who were singing national anthem.
He instead put the blame on the gathering organizers for organizing illegal assembly. For four consecutive weeks, a small-scale gathering had been organized by activist-bloggers to press for the abolition of the notorious Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial.
The gathering last night was special as the crowd also celebrated the 1st anniversary of a 50,000-person rally organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH).
The police had earlier blocked many roads connecting to the Amcorp Mall, a field opposite which was used for the previous gathering. This however did not stop many supporters of the causes to turn up. Warned to leave the tentative field, the crowd were forced to cancel its vigil temporary and leave the mall at about 9.30 pm.
Later at about 10 pm, another group of citizens gathered at the Civic Centre to also celebrate the 1st anniversary of BERSIH rally. This group was attacked at about 10.30 pm without being given any warning to disperse.
Good night. May we wake up to live in a country where singing her national anthem is not a crime.