Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Arrests in Advance of Rally for Electoral Reforms in Malaysia Raise Deep Concerns

See here for original article at Freedom House.

June 29, 2011

The wave of arrests and ongoing intimidation of activists by the Malaysian government in advance of a July 9 rally for clean and fair elections is a blatant attempt by authorities to prevent citizens from exercising their right to peaceful public assembly and free expression and is a clear illustration of the immediate need for democratic reform in Malaysia.

Approximately one hundred activists have been arrested for wearing Bersih 2.0 t-shirts and/or distributing its leafletssince calls for the July 9 rally began. On the morning of June 29, authorities raided the offices of the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0), a coalition of civil society organizations campaigning for electoral reforms, without a warrant. The organization’s materials were confiscated and six staff members and one volunteer were arrested. The Malaysian government has made clear that the July 9 rally will not be permitted to take place and is considered “unlawful.”
“The Malaysian government’s actions fundamentally violate the basic rights to freedom of expression and association guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “The actions by the government are particularly troubling, given that Malaysia is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council and is ostensibly charged with protecting human rights, not with violating them.”
The home affairs minister, Mr. Hishammuddin Hussein, has repeatedly indicated that the authorities may apply the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) to prosecute the organizers of the Bersih 2.0 rally as well as any other gathering on July 9. Section 73(1) of the ISA allows the police to detain any individual for up to 60 days without a warrant, trial or access to legal counsel. Malaysian civil society has consistently expressed serious concerns over electoral irregularities in Malaysia, including rampant vote-rigging in favor of the ruling coalition. Freedom of assembly, although protected under the Malaysia constitution, is often limited on the grounds of maintaining security and public order.  A previous rally by Bersih in 2007 was attended by approximately 60,000 people and led to improved performance by the election commission in the 2008 elections.
“The fact that the Malaysian government is going to such outrageous lengths to prevent peaceful dialogue about the country’s elections only reinforces the importance of what Bersih 2.0 is trying to accomplish,” said Sue Gunawardena Vaughn, senior program manager for SouthEast Asia at Freedom House. “These actions raise deep concerns about what might happen on July 9. Freedom House calls upon Malaysian authorities to allow the rally to proceed without interference and to listen to the call of Malaysian citizens for meaningful reform in their country.”
Malaysia is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

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