The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) agrees that the police acted unprofessionally in preventing an inter-religious seminar on water from being held at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

Commissioner N Siva Subramaniam said the opportunity for inter-religious dialogue and understanding – even on an issue as innocuous as water – may have suffered a setback and even led to further confusion.
“Such a gathering (at the National Mosque) would have united everyone… and (allowed them to) talk about things (that they have) in common,” he said at a meeting this morning with the seminar organisers.

Agreeing that the police had failed to clarify details with the seminar organisers, Siva said Suhakam would meet the Dang Wangi district police chief, and that he would seek a dialogue between all three parties.

Representatives of various religious groups had submitted a memorandum to Siva on what they claim to be the “abuse and misuse of police powers” over the revocation of the permit to hold the event at the National Mosque.

They included Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia deputy president Azril Mohd Amin, Malaysian Gurdwara Council head Harcharan Singh, representative of the office of the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Augustine Julian, and Tony Wee from the Archdiocese Office for Human Development.

Also present was Charles Santiago, lead convenor of the seminar and director of Monitoring the Sustainability of Globalisation, as well as members of several residents’ associations.

In the memorandum, they requested that Suhakam facilitates a meeting between them, senior officers of the Dang Wangi district police station – which has jurisdiction over the location of the National Mosque – and mosque officials.

This is “to unearth the truth” as to the reasons for revoking the permit as well as to “clear the organisations’ good name”, they said.

Apology demanded

Despite having initially welcomed the request, National Mosque officials were said to have subsequently acted on police advice to revoke use of their facilities, the organisers said in the memorandum.

The police said they had information that the seminar included plans for “demonstrations, protests, and people carrying banners”.

“We are leading organisations in the country, representing the various religions and communities. We’re leaders of our communities. We manage temples, churches and gurdwaras,” Santiago told Siva.

“The police have opportunistically linked us with demonstrations and protests. This we find unacceptable.”

The groups demand an apology from the police for themselves and to the National Mosque “for (disseminating) disinformation”.

They also demand that the Special Branch officers responsible for processing applications for police permits be sent for religious and race-sensitivity training and nation-building courses.

Suhakam was asked to work with the organisers to hold a similar programme at the National Mosque.

The seminar – entitled ‘United for Water: Religions Speak on the Human Rights to Water’, aimed at shoring up people’s sacred right to clean and affordable water – was eventually held last Saturday in Brickfields.