The Full Story Behind The Anti-GST Protest That Got 83 People Arrested

A peaceful sit-in protest turned rowdy with both sides calling each other "barbaric".

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Unhappy with GST, about 100 Malaysians gathered at the Customs Department Office in Kelana Jaya on 11am, 23 March 2015 to protest the upcoming tax

Led by Parti Socialist Malaysia and Gabungan Bantah GST, the protest aims to get answers about the controversial consumption tax. They believe Malaysians are not yet ready for GST.

Among the questions they seek from the Customs Department are will there be enforcement to ensure unscrupulous traders do not take advantage of the tax to fleece consumers and if computers for students are subjected to GST.

"Today is one week before GST takes off. We are going to stay put until we get satisfactory answers to all our queries," PSM secretary-general S. Arutchelvan.

It was supposed to be a peaceful sit-in protest, but it quickly turned ugly when the protestors were barred from entering the building. A brawl broke out between the police and the protestors.

Police Light Strike Force (LSF) personnel attempted to arrest a group of activist. At this point, a scuffle broke out between the protesters and police when the former started to scream "police rowdy" and "hidup rakyat".

Seen in the crowd are national laureate Pak Samad, Aunty Bersih, student leader Safwan Anang, federal lawmakers, and more

Aunty Bersih participating in the anti-GST protest, Kelana Jaya.

Image via Malaysia Kini

Others joining in today are PAS Youth as well as youth-based NGOs like Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM), Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (GAMIS), Lensa Anak Muda Malaysia (Lensa) and Angkatan Pemuda Bangsa Malaysia.

Leaders of the organising group tried to calm protestors but the air remained thick with tension

The brawl was stopped and protesters dispersed as several leaders of the group, led by Gabungan Bantah GST and spearheaded by Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) asked them to calm down and follow the initial plan to stage a sit-in.

The situation remained tense, with protesters still shouting "Buka" (open) and "Polis kacau" (police are disrupting us), as negotiations between the protest's leaders and the police continued.

After negotiations, the police agreed for the activists to hand over the anti-GST memorandum to Customs director-general Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman

A spokesman, M. Nalani, said the small, 12-page memorandum was titled “The public are still confused” and contained 109 questions and reasons why the government should not implement GST or why it should cancel it.

"If the Customs Department fail to answer our questions, then it proves that they are not ready for GST and that its implementation should either be postponed or stopped," PSM secretary-general S. Arutchelvan told The Malaysian Insider.

Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman met the protesters but after two questions from the floor, he refused to answer any further and left the meeting

At 1.04pm, the Kuala Lumpur Customs Department acting director Abd Gani Othman met the protesters. He told the crowd he was "just doing his job" and was willing to engage their questions through written answers. "I'm ready to answer through written replies. My duty is only as an administrator, not policymaker."

In a statement by the Parti Sosialis Facebook The party made several attempts to meet him but were 'obstructed' by the police again. "We waited for him for four hours to give us further clarification on the matter, or at least confirm that he will be replying to us in another meeting, but unfortunately, he never turned up."

At 5pm, Petaling Jaya OCPD Asst Comm Azmi Abu Kassim ordered the activists to leave as the Customs office were closing. When they refused to leave, Light Strike Force personnel began arresting them.

"Most of us were handcuffed and then punched and kicked before we were thrown into the police truck. It was unnecessary for such a high handed tactics by the police as we were not resisting arrest," in a statement by Parti Sosialis.

A total of 80 people were arrested. They were handcuffed and thrown into a police truck.

The protesters are being investigated under Section 143 (participating in unlawful assembly), 353 (using criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty) and 186 (obstructing public servant’s duty) of the Penal code and Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act for insulting behaviour.

The relentless activists gathered in front of the Kelana Jaya police station again the next day, 24 March, 7.30pm. They demanded for the release of their comrades, a move that resulted in another three arrests.

Of the 80 who were arrested during the anti-GST protest, 26 were sent to the Shah Alam district police headquarters while the others were released

A list of the names of the activists remanded.

Image via Parti Sosialis Malaysia via Facebook

As the two police trucks transporting the 26 towards Shah Alam came out of the station, the fronts of the trucks were pelted with plastic bottles. The people continued to chant and rile up the crowd that had gathered by exclaiming “hidup rakyat" ("long live the people") and "bantah GST" ("protest GST"). PKR Youth chief Saifullah Zulklifli told the crowd that he had been kicked in the ribs in one of the clashes.

The police station was watched by Light Strike Force personnel geared in anti-riot helmets and shields. PKR communications director Fahmi Fadzil who was at the scene tweeted that police had charged the crowd in a bid to disperse people, without giving any warning.

The people continued to chant and rile up the crowd that had gathered by exclaiming “hidup rakyat" ("long live the people") and "bantah GST" ("protest GST")

Image via Malaysia Kini

Two members of parliament, Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (Sungai Siput) and Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli (Kuala Krai) were among the 26 who have been remanded

Sungai Siput MP Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, one of the protestors arrested at Customs Department office, Kelana Jaya.

Image via Malaysiakini via Facebook

Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli, one of the protestors arrested at Customs Department office, Kelana Jaya.

Image via Malaysiakini

Lawyer Dinesh Muthal, who confirmed that the two MPs were being held in remand, said that the detainees were denied access to legal counsel until this afternoon, and lawyers did not have enough time to talk to their clients before the remand hearing was held today.

"It is not fair for the people who were detained yesterday to be denied meeting their lawyers, the police should have let us have a chance to discuss with them first before the remand hearing," he said.

According to Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar, actions of the anti-GST protesters are "barbaric"

"They are trespassers, so let Selangor police look into the case and those involved first," he told reporters.

Image via Berita Terkini Malaysia

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar states:

"If they wanted to express their grouses over the implementation of GST or have their questions answered, why the need to break into government offices? We will take stern action against them as we can't afford to let this situation continue."

On Facebook, Parti Sosialis Malaysia retorted to the IGP's claim, saying that it was the police who behaved barbarically

"How is PSM trespassing into a government building when we were visiting the public information GST counter available on the ground floor of the building! Does it mean all citizens visiting the public information counter are trespassers?"

"It was the police whom behaved barbarically and pulled and shoved many of us in an attempt to arrest us. What is the point of having a public information counter when it is locked and guarded by the red hat Federal Reserve Unit with shields and batons! PSM and the civil society condemn the police abusive arrest and the IGP for deliberately distorting the events to justify their arrest and charge. We demand the immediate release of all those arrested with no charges as the only party that acted barbarically and unreasonable today were the police."

Federal Reserve Unit with shields and batons during the anti-GST protest at Kelana Jaya.

Image via Malaysiakini

Despite the protests, GST is set to proceed. Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan says "demonstrations will not stop the [implementation of] GST."

"Come April 1, GST will replace the SST (Sales and Services Tax). The government will not succumb to pressure to defer the new consumption tax scheme after activist arrests at the customs complex."

The 25 anti-GST protestors have been now been charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act for failure to follow a police order to disperse at the Customs Department Office

Of the 79 who were arrested during the anti-Goods and Services Tax (GST) protest, 26 were taken to the Shah Alam district police headquarters, and the remaining protesters released.

Image via Rakyat Times

They were jointly charged with refusing to heed a police order to disperse at the Federal Customs, Kelana Jaya. Under Section 21(3) of the Peaceful Assembly Act, the group faces a fine of up to RM20,000. Judge Yasmin Abdul Razak allowed bail at RM3,000 with one surety, each. The court fixed May 14 for next mention.

DPP Suhaimi Ibrahim acted for the prosecution, while the accused were represented by 11 lawyers, namely M. Visvanathan, Roger Chen, Fadhilah Fazil, Chan Wen Hui, Dinesh Muthal, Joshua Tay, Faridah Muhammad, Mohd Zaki Sukery, Mohd Fitry Hussain, Zulhazmi Shariff, Melissa Sasidaran.

This is not the first Anti-GST protest that had taken place in Malaysia

Pakatan Rakyat says GST is not a miracle drug that can save the country's poor finances