Rallies: Taipei versus KL (Malaysiakini 2 Jan 2008)

Rallies: Taipei versus KL
Phang Ee Leong and Yeow Boon Kiat | Jan 2, 08 1:41pm

While a group of lawyers rallying to fight for freedom of assembly at Kuala Lumpur on Dec 9, Taipei—the capital city of Taiwan, on the other hand, had another rally going on as migrant workers from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines went on streets to plead for the rights to enjoy off days.

Taiwan has more than 360,000 migrant workers, including 160,000 domestic helpers; all of them are not protected under the Taiwanese labour law.

This is not to mention that they don’t even have the fundamental rights to have regular off days, and some are alleged not to have even a single day off for the pass three years.

The rally, which was organised by Taiwan International Workers’ Association, was aimed to make a public appeal to the Taiwanese government to take migrant workers’ human rights and working rights seriously so that they could also enjoy regular off days.

A carnival called rally

On Dec 9, more than 2,000 migrant workers and locals from all walks of life rallied in streets of Taipei to express their wish to have off days.

They shouted “I want my day off” slogan in Mandarin, English, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese and Tagalog languages.

The slogan helped to express the wish that all migrant workers, including the domestic helpers, too need to have to chill out regularly and be protected under the labour law.

Even though many of them have not been treated even-handedly, they nevertheless rallied in a rather peaceful mood to express their wish together with their fellow countrymen, foreigners and locals.

Participants behaved very well throughout the rally. Shouting slogans, singing, acting and dancing were their ways of expressing their plea. Some opera performers even wore their creative costumes to join the rally.

Everyone protested smiles and made the rally nothing different from a carnival.

Who on earth said that there has never been peaceful gatherings? Who on earth said that rallies instigate emotions and threaten the country’s peacefulness?

Besides expressing the wish “I want my day off”, all rally participants bore a consensus in mind: we are not here to cause any trouble but just to express our plea, and anticipate that our voice will be heard by the Taiwanese society.

The role of the police force — the people’s public servants — was mainly to make sure that the rally proceed orderly.

The rally started off at the Zhong Xiao East Road, where the most prosperous Sogo business hub is located, passed by the Guang Fu South Road and eventually ended at the Sun Yat-sen memorial hall.

Not more than 20 policemen and volunteers were seen regulating the traffic, and were given full cooperation by the rally participants.
The situation here

Meanwhile in Malaysia, a rally held in KL one day before the world’s Human Rights Day was given much weight by the Malaysian police force which deployed 200 policemen to keep the rally under surveillance.

The participants, numbering less than 100, were initially allowed to rally peacefully for a ten-minute walk and but were soon forced to disperse by the police.

The police then started to arrest participants without giving any reasons. Coincidentally, both rallies in Taipei and KL commenced from somewhere around the Sogo departmental store.

In the aftermath of the Nov 10 yellow wave, our police force portrayed peaceful gatherings as something sinister, called the people terrorists, and depicting the people’s pleas as stirring racial emotion.

The government easily held the participants of peaceful gatherings in custody by using the Internal Security Act.

Come on, rallies and gatherings have always been very peaceful! It is the government who used the water cannons, detentions and forceful dispersals to force the people to surrender.

It is the government who is reluctant to confront with the people’s voice and pleas. The people have been consistently refused of their rights to practice the freedom of assembly which is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

How is the government going to improve and continue to be trusted by the people?

Merely a good exercise

Comparatively speaking, there is a huge gap between the rallies in Taipei and KL. This indicates that there are still rooms for improvements for the freedom and human rights progress in Malaysia.

Indeed, some water was spread on us in Taipei – not the water spread by the water cannons though, but the fountain water outside the Sun Yat-sen memorial hall blown towards us by the winter breeze.

We sincerely hope that someday in the future we could rally freely from Pasar Seni to Tugu Negara and have some fountain water at Tugu Negara spread on us when we are sweating.

Who said that rallies will eventually turned out to be provocative? To quote Umno’s Kota Bahru MP Zaid Ibrahim, rally is merely a good exercise.

Dear Malaysian police, please learn from your counterpart in Taiwan and Hong Kong, just regulate the traffic and make sure that no one gets hurt or faints and let the rally proceed; all rally participants are civilised enough to behave themselves and let you finish working and sipping teh tarik on time, don’t worry.

This article was originally co-authored in Chinese by Phang Ee Leong and Yeow Boon Kiat and is translated into English by Yeow Boon Kiat. The Chinese version of this article first appeared in Malaysiakini on Christmas Eve.

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