Yesterday was a day of shame for Malaysia, for over a thousand anti-riot police, fully armed with tear gas canisters, wicker and baton, and rifles and Field Force personnel with sub-machine guns were mobilised against 500 squatters, including the old, sick, women and children, as if they were criminals, terrorists or dangerous animals without human rights when all they were seeking was to defend their human right to have a home.
Tear gas were fired indiscriminately against the old, sick, women and children, while the womenfolk were manhandled and forcibly evicted from their homes.
The Malaysian Police, and we the people of Malaysia, have nothing to be proud about the Kampong Bercham police action, and as Member of Parliament, we must have the sense of righteousness and courage to speak up and condemn such high-handed police action, to ensure that there would be no repetition.
Squatters problem is a housing problem, and a social and not a criminal problem, and must be handled by various social government agencies and not by criminal-enforcement agencies.
I went to Kampong Bercham in Ipoh with the MP for Jeluton, Sdr. Karpal Singh, from Parliament yesterday, arriving there at about 10.40 p.m. and at about 11.30 p.m., together with the DAP Assemblymen for Kepayang, Sdr. Lau Dak Kee (whose constituency includes Kg. Bercham) and other DAP leaders, visited the area of yesterday morning’s police action, where 42 squatter houses had been demolished.
Strewn all over the ground were the tear gas canisters and casings which were fired indiscriminately by the FRU in the morning, and I collected five gas canisters (four of which were spent although I am not sure about the fifth one) and about 20 casings, to let MPs know about the atrocities committed by the Police against the ordinary rakyat whose only crime was to defend their homes.
From the reactions by some UMNO MPs just now, it is clear that they are more interested in trying to make an issue about my bringing in the tear gas canisters and casings, on the ground that they are dangerous weapons, when they should be aghast that such ‘dangerous weapons’ (which are now spent) had been used against the sick, women, the old and children.
I expect the UMNO MPs of trying to paint me of being an enemy to Parliament, of wanting to blow up Parliament, and I would not be surprised if they suggest that I should be arrested under the Internal Security Act for bringing in dangerous weapons.
I say to those UMNO MPs that they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves of being such incorrigible political opportunists, who do not have a sense of conscience or moral responsibility.
It is a national tragedy for Malaysians of all races that MPs could be more concerned about spent gas canisters, and casing being brought to Parliament when they have no thought whatsoever for the old, sick, women and children who were the targets of these tear gas canisters.
I want to ask these MPS whether they are elected to look after their own interest or the interest of the people?
I hope that the UMNO MPs are not suggesting that the Police are fully justified to use anti-riot squads to fire indiscriminately tear gas and use other forms of violence against squatters, for if this is the case, then they would also be advocating that the FRU should go into Sungei Nibong Kecil in Penang, which is in the constituency of the MP for Balik Pulau, and fire indiscriminately tear gas against the squatters, who are made up predominately of Malays, while in Kampong Bercham, the squatters are Chinese.
Or are these UMNO MPs suggesting that it is all right to use the FRU against the Chinese squatters but not Malay squatters?
The DAP condemns such petty, opportunistic and racialist attitudes. We want squatters to be treated as poor and unfortunate Malaysians, regardless of race, who should be helped by the Government, whether Federal or State, to have a roof of their own, and where the FRU or other forms of state violence are never applied against poverty and social backwardness
If the UMNO MPs claim that the gas canisters and casings are ‘dangerous weapons’, then they should thank me for doing a public service, for if these gas canisters and casings are left around in Kampong Bercham, then they would cause injury to many innocent people, including the young. These UMNO MPs should praise me for going to Kampong Bercham, and Sdr. Karpal and I returned to Kuala Lumpur only after 4 a.m. this morning (and for the information of all MPs, I have not yet gone to bed since yesterday), and being them to Parliament to be handed over to the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.
But these are mere pretensions, for how could gas canisters and casings (except for one which had probably not been exploded, and nobody wants to explode it!) be dangerous, except for those who want to sensationalise on non-issues.
If in bringing these spent tear gas canisters and casings into Parliament, I could jolt and shock MPs into realising the horror perpetrated on the 500 squatters at Kampong Bercham, and to put a stop to such high-handed and even brutal police action against squatters, whether Malays, Chinese or Indians, to stop treating them as criminals or terrorists, but to respect them as human beings, then I would be glad to accept the consequences of my action.
My conscience would be very clear that I have done my duty to all the squatters in Malaysia, of all races, who run easily to over a million, to speak up for their basic human right to be treated as human beings.
Here, I want to mention that the tear gas canisters have passed their shelf life, some which carried instructions that they should be replaced in October 1974, others in 1976. What is the consequence of using tear gas canisters which have expired their shelf life? I understand it could be one of two consequences: either the tear gas canisters would not work, or it could emit not just tear gas, but poisonous gas!
I hope that the House would not be deviated from the issue before us, which is the plight of the 500 squatters who were brutally treated by high-handed police action yesterday, and not the so-called security of Parliament with the spent gas canisters and casings.
We must deplore the arrest of nine persons yesterday in the Kampong Bercham operation on the ground that they were obstructing public officers from carrying out lawful duties. When your only home for the last 10 to 15 years is being demolished, exposing you to homelessness, what do you expect the squatters concerned to do? Lawyers would know of the concept of natural law which would justify human beings to defend their basic rights against the lawlessness of man-made laws.
What makes the Kampong Bercham incidents so unnecessary is that mature leadership could have avoided a conflict.
During the October 1982 Kepayang by-election, the Mentri Besar, Ramli Ngah, publicly promised the Kampong Bercham squatters a 20-acre land for 142 housing lots to resite them to make way for low-cost housing in the squatter area.
But his solemn Barisan Nasional promise proved an ‘empty’ one. On August 21, a squatter delegation led by the DAP Assemblyman for Kepayang, Sdr. Lau Dak Kee, met the Mentri besar who promised that all the squatters would be given land for housing (initially TOL and later to become a leasehold) and for those with farming activities, would be given land for farming as well.
The Kampong Bercham squatters were let down again and again. When on October 1, the land Office with Police support wanted to demolish the 64 houses, with the intervention of Sdr. Lau Dak Kee, the Mentri Besar agreed to a one-week extension. Furthermore, the Mentri Besar also agreed to meet Sdr. Lau Dak Kee on October 17 to discuss the problem of Kampong Bercham squatters, which is a tacit understanding that there would be no forcible eviction until then.
Yesterday itself, when the assistant District Officer went to the scene and told Sdr. Lau Dak Kee that the Kampong Bercham squatters would be given housing lots and others who have farming land, land for farming as well, Sdr. Lau Dak Kee sought and received the agreement of the squatters to co-operate with the authorities in demolishing the squatters huts. But when the Assistant District Officer on being asked for further clarification, said it was not a housing lot but some ‘long house’ temporary arrangement, tempers flare.
It is most deplorable that the Kampong Bercham squatter problem was already so close to settlement, and with further patience, discussions, an amicable settlement would have been reached if the government had honoured its pledge to the squatters.
The Kampong Bercham squatters are very disappointed that MCA and Gerakan leaders, in particular the MP for Ipoh, Peter Chin, had not helped them – but had allowed yesterday’s police high-handed action and brutality to take place. The MCA MP for Ipoh should actually resign for his political negligence and irresponsibility.
The squatter problem must be seen in a larger and national perspective. It is the result of the failure of the Barisan Nasional government housing policy to provide housing for the poor.
The Federal and State Government must bear responsibility to find immediate accommodation for the Kampong Bercham squatters who had been evicted.
It should embark on a crash programme to build low-cost houses for all, and in resolving squatter problems, must adopt the four guidelines of:
(a) Squatters must be treated as human beings and not treated as criminals, terrorists or akin to animals without human rights;
(b) There must be no police solution to the squatter problem, such as the indiscriminate and massive firing of tear gas at the sick, old, women and children, and resort must be had to negotiations and discussions;
(c) Government acknowledgement of its responsibility for the squatter problem because of its housing programme failure to provide a roof over the head of the poor;
(d) The fulfilment of the government’s promise that all pre-June 1975 squatters (made by the Perak Mentri Besar in the Perak Assembly) would be provided with alternative accommodation before they are evicted.
Finally, I call on the House, to prevent future Kampong Bercham incidents from repeating, to
(i) Condemn the high-handed police action against the Kampong Bercham squatters in firing tear gas indiscriminately against them; and
(ii) Call on the Federal and State government to have a humane solution to the squatter problem.
(Speech by Parliament Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang in Dewan Rakyat on an adjournment motion of urgent, definite, public importance on October 11, 1984)