Sadly, police personnel did not do enough to rein in the thugs and maintain peace and security during the Stop Lynas gathering in Penang, reports eye-witness Henry Loh.
On Sunday, 26 February 2012, Himpunan Hijau, a coalition of concerned individuals and NGOs, organised a peaceful gathering to protest against the Lynas Corporation’s proposed rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang.
To date, the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) has awarded three licenses to Lynas Malaysia Sdn Bhd (Lynas): a site license, a construction licence and a temporary operating licence (TOL). Although the TOL was approved by the AELB board on 30 January 2012, it has not yet been issued.
Clearly, if sufficient public pressure can be mounted in view of the potential environmental risk and hazard that the plant poses to human lives, the refinery can still be stopped. On 17 February, 10 residents applied for a judicial review at the High Court to challenge the decision by AELB to grant the licenses to Lynas to operate in Malaysia.
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As a sign of support and solidarity with the organisers of Himpunan Hijau 2.0 in Kuantan, Pahang, similar protests were held in Kuala Lumpur, Perak, Sabah, Sarawak and Penang. I attended the protest gathering held at the Speakers Square, at Padang Kota Lama, Penang. When I arrived at around 6.10pm there a crowd of at least 400-500 had already gathered. Many wore lime green apparel to express their opposition to Lynas project.
Also present at the Esplanade, however, was a group of 30-50 individuals who made it very loud and clear that they were Lynas supporters. The behaviour of this group was disturbing and unsettling. Perhaps knowing they were outnumbered, they resorted to rough and abusive tactics hoping to intimidate and drive fear into the much larger crowd of peaceful anti-Lynas protesters. Then again, on second thoughts, I am being too kind in even trying to explain their ruffian-like behaviour.
It is not difficult to imagine after observing their antics that such people are just incapable of behaving in a mature and civil manner. If their parents – assuming they are decent and respectable human beings – had been around to observe what these thugs said and did – then they would have been thoroughly ashamed of their children. The adjective “kurang ajar” is an apt description of the disgusting demeanour of this small group of Lynas supporters.
Unbecoming behaviour is way too mild to describe what this group of ruffians and gangsters did that day. When speakers such as Suaram’s Ng Eng Kiat of Suaram, Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng tried to speak, these hooligans made as much noise as possible to disrupt the speeches. They shouted slogans like “Hidup BN!”, “Hidup Umno!” and “Hidup Najib!” At one point, they walked to their motorbikes parked near the Town Hall and revved their engines hoping to disrupt the speeches.
They also confronted the anti-Lynas protesters and insisted that the gathering be called off. They kept shouting for us to “Balik! Balik!” pointing their index fingers menacingly hoping to threaten us.
At one point one of the ‘gang leaders’ approached me as I was standing there and in a loud and rough tone demanded to know, “Kamu sudah angkat RM500kan?”
I presume he was referring to the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) scheme under which heads of households earning less than RM3000 a month are entitled to one-off cash handout of RM500. I merely looked at him without any response.
Next he zeroed in on a fairly elderly woman who was standing behind me and “accused” her of having collected the RM500 as well.
The lady was not at all intimidated and stared straight back at him and his gang of supporters.
By this time a crowd of anti-Lynas protesters had come to stand around us and the feeling of having support and protection from like-minded individuals was reassuring.
It is indeed sad to see the line of thought among these pro-Umno and pro-BN supporters; they seem to think that accepting the RM500 distributed under BR1M amounts to a pledge of loyalty to Umno and the BN. Evidently, these goons are incapable of understanding that the money distributed came from tax-payers and the resources of the country and does not belong to PM Najib or Umno or Barisan Nasisonal.
The anti-Lynas protest gathering clearly was not meant to be an anti-Barisan or anti-Umno gathering. The protesters chanted “Henti Lynas!” and “Selamatkan Malaysia!”; yet those goons saw it as an affront to Umno and Najib. For the Lynas supporters to believe that BR1M is a gift/allocation from Umno or the BN is a strong sign of arrogance. For them to believe that any opposition to Lynas is tantamount to opposing Barisan is a clear reflection of their ignorance.
In all likelihood, these goons do not even understand the potential hazardous effects of radioactive material. They are for Lynas simply because the Umno/Barisan-led Pahang state government is in favour of having the refinery.
Recently, former premier Mahathir commented that Malaysians are not mature enough to appreciate civil debates when he commented on persistent calls for a debate between Najib Razak and Anwar Ibrahim. One would agree with him if he was referring to the goons like those who reared their ugly heads as Lynas supporters at the Esplanade.
But the peace-loving and mature demeanour of the anti-Lynas demonstrators clearly proved Mahathir wrong. Kudos to the high level of maturity displayed by them. Suaram leaders also played a key role in preserving the peace by consistently calling for calm and non-retaliation.
The ‘Goon Squad” pushed and shoved and shouted vulgarities and displayed rude and lewd gestures. At all times they tried to provoked and intimidate various sections of the anti-Lynas protesters. But thankfully they were unsuccessful.
In the face of the intense provocation and intimidation, any physical retaliation would certainly have sparked off clashes and altercations and the outcome would have been disastrous. As it is, the main violence came from members of the Goon Squad, and two innocent reporters were attacked and injured in the melee. Many netizens have uploaded their video recordings onto Youtube and you can draw your own conclusions after viewing them.
As the events were unfolding from 6.00pm to 7.00pm, uniformed police personnel were noticeably absent. I kept looking around for them and mentioned to a friend, “Where are the police personnel when you really need them?”
The Penang Chief Police Officer was later quoted in the press as saying, “The organisers should have informed and discussed with the district police on the security precautions to be taken…” That seems to imply that because the police were not being officially informed, they were therefore not physically present to uphold security and order.
Yet hundreds of us would have noticed a white police caravan parked right outside the Town Hall, which is a mere 50 metres from where Speakers Square is located. Clearly too there would have been at least several if not many Special Branch police personnel among the crowd observing and recording the events. It would have been the duty and responsibility of these officers to ensure that police reinforcements were called in to ensure that peace and order was maintained. Instead the goons were given a free hand to spread terror, disrupt, intimidate, threaten and provoked as they pleased.
One cannot help but feel that the police response or in this case the lack of it reeks of double standards. It would seem that Lynas supporters, who through their chants of “Hidup Umno!” and “Hidup Najib!” were clearly also Umno supporters if not members, had special leeway from the police to go about their disruptive antics without interference. To shake, kick and spit at the official car of the Chief Minister of Penang and not be stopped or arrested will certainly fuel the confidence of the perpetrators to try even more dastardly deeds in future.
Surely the police force is capable of displaying a much greater degree of professionalism and independence in carrying out their duties and responsibilities. All citizens of the country irrespective of our race, gender, ethnicity, age, social status or political affiliations are entitled to be protected against any and all forms of threats and violence.
Perpetrators who disrupt the peace and intimidate and threaten others should be refrained form doing so. If after being duly warned, they refuse to stop disturbing the peace, then they should be arrested and duly prosecuted. Sadly on that day, the police personnel did not do enough to maintain peace and security.
Henry Loh is an Aliran executive committee member.