A top Malaysian police official claimed Britain’s riots vindicated his nation’s sharp crackdown on large-scale political demonstrations, saying street protests can turn into “nightmares.”
Malaysian authorities have faced criticism for trying to foil a demonstration organized by civic groups last month to demand more transparency in electoral laws that they say help the ruling coalition continue its decades-long grip on power.
Police arrested more than 1,600 demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons against at least 20,000 people who marched in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.
Deputy national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the rioting and looting in British cities this past week were “nightmares that we are fighting hard to avoid and prevent” in Malaysia.
Protests “should always be avoided as we will never know what it can turn into,” Khalid said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Britain’s riots began on Saturday when an initially peaceful protest over a police shooting in London’s Tottenham neighborhood turned violent.
Malaysia has strict assembly laws that require organizers of public rallies to obtain police permits. Authorities refused to approve last month’s demonstration and insisted it would disrupt public order, angering some Malaysians who considered it a suppression of their right to gather peacefully for a legitimate cause.
Opposition leaders have accused Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition of seeking to muzzle dissent and to ensure that election policies favor the government ahead of mid-2012 national polls.
Several Malaysian political commentators in recent days have rejected efforts by government supporters to point to Britain’s violence as a reason for preventing demonstrations.
“The attempts at justifying the banning of public rallies in Malaysia by referring to the riotous behavior of some others display a certain degree of shallowness,” lawyer Art Harun wrote on his blog. “These people [in Britain] did not rally or attend a demonstration as an exercise of their freedom to assemble.”