KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A top Malaysian police official claimed Britain’s riots vindicate the Southeast Asian nation’s sharp crackdown on large-scale political demonstrations, saying street protests can turn into “nightmares.”
Malaysian authorities have faced criticism for trying to foil a demonstration organized by civic groups last month to demand more transparency in electoral laws they say help the ruling coalition continue its decades-long grip on power. Police arrested more than 1,600 demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons against at least 20,000 people who defied warnings and marched in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.
Deputy national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the rioting and looting in British cities this past week were “nightmares that we are fighting hard to avoid and prevent” in Malaysia.
Protests “should always be avoided as we will never know what it can turn into,” Khalid said in a statement late Wednesday. “Praise to God, we are able to avoid these scary and tragic scenes from erupting here in our beloved country.”
Britain’s riots began Saturday when an initially peaceful protest over a police shooting in London’s Tottenham neighborhood turned violent. That clash morphed into general lawlessness in London and several other cities.
Malaysia has strict assembly laws that require organizers of public rallies to obtain police permits. Authorities refused to approve last month’s demonstration and insisted it would disrupt public order, angering some Malaysians who considered it a suppression of their right to gather peacefully for a legitimate cause.
Opposition leaders have accused Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition of seeking to muzzle dissent and to ensure that election policies favor the government ahead of national polls widely expected by mid-2012.
Several Malaysian political commentators in recent days have rejected efforts by government supporters to point to Britain’s violence as a reason for preventing demonstrations.
“The attempts at justifying the banning of public rallies in Malaysia by referring to the riotous behavior of some others display a certain degree of shallowness,” lawyer Art Harun wrote on his blog. “These people (in Britain) did not rally or attend a demonstration as an exercise of their freedom to assemble.”
Britain’s tensions have drawn increased attention in Malaysia because of a widely watched video of a 20-year-old Malaysian accounting student who suffered an attack in east London.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has described the incident in the footage, which shows an injured Mohammad Asyraf Haziq being robbed by a group of youths, as a sign of a deeper societal malaise in Britain.