In what was seen as yet another attack against democracy and freedom of speech, police raided the premises of Rumah Api on the 28th of August and arrested 163 individuals at a music event. Most of the detainees were musicians and social activists, sparking an outrage on social media.
Some of these detainees claimed to have been treated poorly, with women being made to change sanitary pads in front of officers.
These allegations have since been deemed “baseless” by Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police (controversial figure Khalid Abu Bakar) who was not present at the raid nor at the locations where the individuals were detained.
What is Rumah Api?
Known to most in the local punk and hardcore scene, Rumah Api is located in Pekan Ampang and it’s one of the best places in town to get a dose of straight-up rock music.
In terms of ideology, Rumah Api is a community and space dedicated to social justice, equality, anti-authoritarianism, autonomous action and alternative principles.
Our community includes artists and activists whose work promotes critical analysis and the possibility of expanded vision for our lives and the lives of our neighborhoods, cities, and communities. It includes punks who embrace the ethos of DIY, express positive outrage, and reject corporate commercialism.
To most of in the creative scene, it’s a safe space for punk gigs and alternative music. The venue is also available for meetings, workshops and forums.
On the 28th of August 2015, Rumah Api held an event named Party Today, Revolution Tomorrow at 8pm. Among bands performing on the night were Virginia On Duty, Blind Tribe, Carburetor Dung and Badass Farmer.
What happened at Party Today, Revolution Tomorrow?
Police raided the premises at 11:30pm, during the midst of Virginia On Duty’s performance, and arrested 163 individuals (a figure obtained from Astro Awani) including those from America, Germany, Philippines, Indonesia and Spain. No reasons were given at time of arrest; everyone was just gathered and shipped off to the station.
According to tweets from performing arts body Kakiseni – who works closely with the National Department for Culture & Arts (JKKN) – musical equipment were also confiscated by the police and detainees were made to take a urine test.
All of those who were arrested were brought to the Taman Dagang Ibu Pejabat Daerah Polis Ampang Jaya. The detainees found out that they were going to be held for three days for “trying to topple the Malaysian government”. The owners of Rumah Api – Man Beranak and Wan Hazril – were to be held for four days.
The women were then sent to Balai Polis Pandan Indah.
What happened in the police station?
It was later found out that the arrests were made under Section (4)(1)(b) of the Sedition Act, Section 6 of the Selangor Entertainment and Places of Entertainment Enactment 1995 (Amendment 2001) and Section 143 of the Penal Code. Police withheld this information while making the arrests.
There are many harrowing accounts from women about the way they were treated by police.
According to news portal Free Malaysia Today, one woman informed (on condition of anonymity) that eight menstruating women including herself were not allowed to wear underwear and were made to change their sanitary pads in the presence of a female police officer.
Further statements included the fact that police confiscated most of what family members brought for the detainees, handing over only what they deemed were utterly essential.
We also know that those arrested were caught for “attempting to overthrow the government by staging a revolution”, an assumption made by the police after knowing of the event title.
The police were trying to implicate us to whatever gathering, I don’t know. But the people who were at Rumah Api were basically the people who are the least likely to go for Bersih 4. We told them everything we knew, which was nothing they wanted to hear.
Furthermore, access to lawyers were not granted despite each detainee having the right to do so, which shocked many of the detainees.
What happened after the three days were up?
The Malaysians were all let go, but the Filipino and Indonesian captives were held far longer and weren’t allowed visitors, bar embassy representatives. The Filipino detainee was released on the 1st of September.
Due to the failure of the Malaysian immigration system, Indonesian detainee Yogie Kurniawan was held until the 2nd of September. His passports bore stamps that showed he had entered the country legally, something the police failed to verify because of outdated local administrative systems.
The incident has since reached Indonesian news media.
How did the community react?
Organisations which advocate basic human rights and freedom of speech have been appalled with the way police have reacted in the situation. Aside from displaying extremely poor judgement, it would seem that local authorities have also shown no respect or regard for citizen rights.
Projek Dialog issued a statement today questioning the standard operating procedures of the Malaysian police force, and shamed the usage of the Sedition Act, labelling it “draconian”. The advocate for social progress also considered the ruckus as a showcase of “police prejudice towards subculture and music”.
Penggunaan kuasa secara semberono ini cukup jelas apabila pihak polis tidak mendedahkan sebab serbuan dan penahanan. Selain itu, proses untuk mendapatkan akses khidmat guaman juga telah dilambatkan serta layanan yang tidak adil kepada beberapa teman-teman yang ditahan.
The statement was signed by a large number of local publishers, collectives and artists.
Executive Director at Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, labelled this a “gross abuse of power” and also wants the magistrate to share in responsibility, for “rubber-stamping the police’s application for remand when clearly there was no merit in arresting and investigating these youths for the alleged offences”.
Eric linked it to the authority’s desire to curb on youth involvement in street rallies such as Bersih.
We call on the police to go back to basics – to be a professional, impartial and competent police force in maintaining law and order, preventing and detecting real crimes and apprehending real criminals rather than be concerned with frivolous matters like youths enjoying underground live music. All equipment and materials seized should also be returned to the rightful owners.
Performing arts advocate Kakiseni has strongly opposed the arrests while keeping users on Twitter updated about the happenings and allegations. Elsewhere, social media platform Twitter has been flooded with disapproval from notable individuals such as Ksatriya, Liyana Fizi, Jennifer Thompson and Michelle Yesudas, all of whom condemned the arrests.
Are we meant to feel safer now?
Many have suspected that these arrests were made in conjunction with Bersih, a mass rally by citizens against corruption. In its latest installment, formed after repeated failure by the Malaysian government to account for mismanagement of funds amounting up to RM2.6 billion, Bersih 4 was scheduled to take place on the 28th and 29th of August.
Under the rule of Prime Minister Najib Razak, local police forces have constantly been under fire for abuse of power. Aside from being given permission to use excessive force in peaceful rallies conducted by the rakyat, local authorities have also accepted zero accountability for deaths in police custody.
Human Rights Watch detail several incidents in which Malaysian police have crossed lines in a comprehensive report from 2014.
All information compiled from various sources. Thank you to Kakiseni, Projek Dialog, Free Malaysia Today, Lawyers for Liberty, Human Rights Watch, Rumah Api and Astro Awani. Featured image by anonymous, sourced from Fahmi Reza via Facebook.