The Malaysian police (PDRM) has published a press release on their Facebook (Nov 29) warning that rumours circulated in Whatsapp about an impending race riot associated with a Dec 8 rally, can cause unnecessary fear and threaten public disorder.
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PDRM corporate communications chief senior assistant commissioner Datuk Asmawati Ahmad urged the public not to fall victim.
What were the four rumours?
- First rumour:
A Whatsapp voice note claiming gangsters were committing random acts of violence against anyone near the area – of the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Seafield, Subang Jaya, Selangor – with a warning to the public not to go out at night.
- Second rumour:
A Whatsapp voice note urged the Malays to prepare sharp weapons for the scheduled rally (anti-ICERD rally by PAS and UMNO) on Dec 8 which will purportedly see racial clashes involving three ethnic groups.
- Third rumour:
A WhatsApp message claiming federal police have issued warnings regarding random acts of violence by unknown groups around Subang Jaya, Puchong, Klang and Old Klang Road after 9pm.
- Fourth rumour:
The sharing of manipulated photos with the aim of creating a false perception that public disorder was taking place nationwide.
Rumours can incite public disorder
Asmawati said all of this fake news can affect the security of the country and can incite racial tension and religious sensitivity in the multicultural society of Malaysia.
According to the press release, Asmawati assures the public that security and public order will be maintained, and any party attempting to disrupt the peace and unity in the country will be dealt with.
What led to the rumours?
Two main events that happened in Malaysia last month (November) led to the circulation of fake news and rumours on Whatsapp and Facebook:
First event: The court-sanctioned eviction of a Hindu temple in Seafield, Subang Jaya, in the state of Selangor.
Indian devotees were reportedly protesting the relocation of the temple when they were attacked by another group, which was later revealed to be Malay thugs hired by the landlord.
“Because they hired Malays to ‘take care of things’ at a Hindu temple, you can imagine the reaction it would trigger”, said the Home Affairs Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin
Second event: The debate on Malaysia and the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) triggered widespread condemnation by the mainly pro-Malay rights group who fear that ICERD may dilute privileges for the majority ethnic Malays and threaten Islam’s position as the official religion.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said on Nov 23 that his administration would not ratify ICERD, without giving a reason for the decision. This comes on the back of protests led by opposition parties PAS and UMNO.
What is happening on December 8?
PAS and UMNO’s leaders, as well as conservative groups, had planned for an anti-ICERD rally on Dec 8 but since PM Mahathir has already indicated his office will not ratify ICERD, the opposition parties will instead lead a rally on the same date to “show appreciation” to the Government for not ratifying ICERD.
Observers, however, worry that the rally may spark more racial tension due to the recent riots at Hindu temple. This was rebuffed by Opposition MP Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man who said that the anti-ICERD rally should not be linked to the temple issue.
He said: “We shouldn’t tie the rally to ICERD. When it comes to religion, we need to respect the right to religion. Even in warfare Islam doesn’t allow collateral damage on places of worship and priests or even trees.”
“We want to show our gratitude to the government. I don’t think it will be a racial polemic and the gathering on December 8 is a gathering over national policy. It doesn’t involve the different ethnic groups. We want to make sure there are no ethnic groups being left behind.”