Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) strongly condemn the recent and on-going threats and intimidation by the Malaysian government against the electoral reform campaigners. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) comprises of Malaysian civic and human rights organisations campaigning for electoral reforms and independent monitoring of elections in the country. Bersih 2.0 plans to hold a mass rally on 9 July 2011 to demand for, among others, fair access of all political parties to media, reform of postal ballots and a revision of the electoral roll to address irregularities for the upcoming 13th General Elections to be held in mid-2012.
We are appalled over the current wave of arrests and intimidation by the authorities, which have taken place weeks ahead of the rally. On 26 June 2011, seven people were arrested by police in Taman Kosas, in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, for wearing Bersih 2.0 t-shirts and allegedly “disrupting public order”. One day prior to this incident, around thirty supporters of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), including three minors, were arrested in Kepala Batas, in the northern state of Penang, for distributing their election campaign fliers. One minor was released on the 27 June but the rest are being investigated under Section 122 of the Penal Code which punishes any attempt to “wage war against Malaysia’s monarch” with up to life imprisonment. As of yesterday, the police have arrested around hundred people nationwide for distributing political pamphlets or wearing Bersih 2.0 t-shirts for the 9 July mass rally.
FORUM-ASIA and SEAPA are deeply troubled by the announcement of the police that no gatherings on 9 July 2011 will be permitted on the basis of the Malaysia Police Act Section 27 whereby organizers of public gatherings of three or more persons are obliged to seek permits beforehand. We remind the Malaysian government that the Federal Constitution Article 10(1)(b) clearly and firmly guarantees that “all citizens have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms”. The provisions of the Malaysian Police Act, which impede freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, should be repealed or amended immediately.
We are also gravely concerned over news reports that 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 mass rally as well as any other gatherings taking place on 9 July, supposedly to penalize violence and protect public order. We emphasize that invoking the ISA is wholly inappropriate and would be extremely disproportionate in the context of peaceful gathering. Furthermore, as a member State of the UN Human Rights Council, the Malaysian government shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Lastly, FORUM-ASIA and SEAPA urge the Malaysian government not to shut down the space for its citizens to freely exercise their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are essential components for a solid and vibrant democratic society. The public has the right to be informed about the electoral reform campaigns and attend the public road shows being organized by Bersih 2.0 in the lead up to the 9 July rally, and the media should independently report the issue without fear. The assault on the electoral reform campaigns and rallies only creates a chilling effect in the country. The Malaysian government must stop threats and intimidation, immediately release the detained campaigners and supporters, and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully on 9 July.
For more information or media interview, please contact:
Mr. Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA, Executive Director, +66 81 868 9178, email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ms. Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA, Executive Director, +66 88 017 4810, email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development is a regional human rights organization based in Bangkok with 47 member organizations across Asia. It is also a non-governmental organization in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2004.
SEAPA is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom andResponsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association (TJA); and the network’s Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).