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Protestors arrested during march to royal palace

(CIJ/IFEX) - The following is an 8 March 2009 statement by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), an interim member of IFEX:

Malaysia: Government urged to stop crushing dissent

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned about the arrests of protesters who attempted to march to the royal palace on 7 March. The protesters want the national language to be used to teach all subjects in national schools.

According to reports in local newspapers, 124 protesters were arrested. Police fired tear gas at the protesters, numbering between 5,000 and 10,000, as they started their march to the palace to submit a memorandum. Roadblocks had been erected on major roads leading to the capital as part of the police's efforts to stop the protest.

CIJ is concerned about the police action against the group, known as the Movement for the Abolition of the Teaching of Mathematics and Science in English (Malay acronym - GMP). Maths and science have been taught in English since 2002, a policy which recently came up for review. The authorities' response to the protest shows that they are silencing public criticism, rather than responding to community concerns. Rather than illustrating the government's ability to explain its stance, the crackdown will cause further discontent with the government's handling of this issue.

While the police allowed the submission of the memorandum to the palace by national laureate A. Samad Said, the police action is uncalled for and a violation of freedom of speech and assembly.

CIJ asks the police to release those arrested and the government to engage in constructive efforts to explain, revise or abolish the education policy, instead of going after those who criticize the policy. Exercising freedom of expression should be treated as a check-and-balance mechanism in a democracy instead of as a criminal activity.

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