Dec 19, 2008

JERIT protesters defy police ban and cycle to parliament

A group of activists escorted by opposition MPs defied a police ban to cycle to Parliament today and present a list of demands including the repeal of the Internal Security Act.
KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian activists escorted by opposition MPs defied a police ban to cycle to parliament Thursday and present a list of demands including the repeal of a tough security law.

The activists, who have spent 16 days pedalling across the country, were blocked by police who deployed scores of officers, threw up barricades at the entrance of parliament and warned organisers their action was illegal.

But a band of 10 cyclists crossed the police line after opposition lawmakers intervened and said it was their democratic right to demand social and political reforms, despite police not giving permission for the protest.

Scores of supporters wearing red T-shirts and carrying banners reading "Cyclists for Change" shouted "Long live the people" as the activists rode into the grounds of parliament.

Among their demands are the scrapping of security laws that allow for detention without trial, the introduction of a minimum monthly wage of 1,500 ringgit (429 dollars), lower food prices and housing for the poor.

Some 130 activists including school children launched the cross-nation biking campaign on December 3, led by the "Coalition of Oppressed People" (Jerit), which champions equality and human rights.

Malaysia's lawyers' group accused the police of intimidating the protesters, and said one person was arrested at parliament Thursday.

"The Bar Council is appalled at the harassment and intimidation from the police directed at participants of the Jerit campaign," vice-president Ragunath Kesavan said in a statement.

"We must accept the peaceful expression of views, even those that are not always palatable, as a legitimate part of the democratic process."

Police on Monday detained 57 participants including 28 children and teenagers in an attempt to end the cycling protest. They were later freed.

During the campaign, organisers said that their bicycles were set on fire by unknown individuals and stones thrown at the vehicle accompanying them.

"The aim of this campaign is important. People are suffering. The government must address the problems which are real," said A. Kalishwaran, a 16-year-old participant who said he was held overnight by police.

Malaysia's coalition government has faced unprecedented opposition over the past year, culminating in March general elections that produced its worst results in half a century.

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