Authorities must cease violations of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression

Press release
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Paris-Bangkok, 30 June 2011. The recent arrests and criminal charges against members and supporters of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM), as well as the government’s refusal to grant permit for political rallies, constitute serious violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM).

According to information gathered by SUARAM, 96 activists or supporters of the opposition have been arrested and 20 others have been summoned by the police for questioning since 22 June, 2011. They were arrested or summoned for their role and participation in activities in preparation for a mass rally on 9 July 2011 organised by Bersih 2.0, a coalition of civil society and political activists supportive of electoral reforms. In November 2007, a first Bersih march and rally had brought together approximately 60,000 participants.

Fifty of those detained have been released as of 28 June. On 29 June, the Bersih 2.0 Secretariat office in Petaling Jaya was raided by the police from the Selangor State Headquarters without a warrant. According to witness account, the police recorded the identity card numbers of employees, searched the premises and counted the number of Bersih T-shirts. The police officers then arrested six staff members and one volunteer as well as confiscated all Bersih 2.0 materials in the office.

30 PSM activists, including 14 women and 3 minors, have been remanded until Saturday 2 July after they were arrested on 25 June by police near Kepala Batas while traveling on a bus from Kedah for a planned Bersih 2.0 roadshow in Penang. They have been charged for “waging war against the King (Yang di-Pertuan Agong)” under Section 122 of the Penal Code, which is punishable by life imprisonment or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 20 years as well as a fine. The evidence presented by the police includes Bersih leaflets and 28 T-shirts, eight of which bore pictures of former Communist Party leaders. A number of activists were also arrested in other locations for selling or wearing yellow Bersih 2.0 T-shirts.

The 30 activists are being detained in Penang State Police Headquarters, Kepala Batas District Police station and Sungai Dua Police station. Their families have not been allowed to visit them and some have reported ill-treatment, including kicking and punching, and denial of needed medical care by the police. Seven of the detainees at Penang State Police Headquarters have been placed in solitary confinement.

On 27 June, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said in Hulu Selangor that these activists have a ‘hidden agenda’ and the planned rally could ‘jeopardize’ peace and lead to chaos. He also raised the possibility of invoking the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) against organisers of various rallies on 9 July in order to address any “threat against public interest and national security.” The authorities have already declared they would not grant permit for the 9 July Bersih rally, despite the fact that an application has not been made.

The arrests, detention and summons for questioning, as well as accusatory statements made by leading officials, related to public events ahead of the planned Bersih rally are clearly politically motivated and are aimed at intimidating the political opposition and other activists who support electoral reforms. The charges against the 30 activists on the mere ground of possession of a few t-shirts and leaflets demonstrate a serious lack of respect for freedoms of peaceful expression and assembly, the right to which is guaranteed by Article 10 of the Constitution of Malaysia.

FIDH and SUARAM call on the Malaysian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all PSM activists, drop all unfounded charges against them and other Bersih activists and put an end to further acts that violate the right to freedom of peaceful expression and assembly. FIDH and SUARAM further call on Malaysia to enhance its institutional protection of human rights and the rule of law by signing and ratifying key international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and by bringing domestic laws into line with international human rights law.

The Malaysian government should listen to and address the legitimate concerns of ordinary citizens in a manner that is respectful of internationally recognised and constitutionally guaranteed liberties ,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “ Reacting to criticisms and dissents with intimidation, arrests, detention and legal persecution is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime, not a country that calls itself a democracy; repression of civil and political rights is not a solution — it is a recipe for social instability and tension ,” added Ms. Belhassen.

SUARAM urges the government to look into the demands of the Bersih 2.0 instead of clamping down on their freedom of expression and assembly. If the Prime Minister Najib Razak is sincere in listening to the people and practicing the slogan “People First”, then he should not curb people’s rights and freedoms ,” said Nalini Elumalai, Program Manager of SUARAM. “ Malaysia has already a relatively poor record on democracy and human rights and it should not join the ranks of authoritarian countries notorious and infamous for their reckless disregard for the most basic human rights - human dignity and human life ,” said Nalini.

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