AI: End vindictive crackdown on leaders of protest movement

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Uphold the right to freedom of assembly - Image: Amnesty International

Instead of listening to the people who demonstrated at the Bersih 4 rally, the Malaysian government is doing everything in its power to increase repression further, writes Josef Benedict.

Malaysian authorities must halt plans to charge one of the organisers of a peaceful anti-government rally staged in August.

These moves are clearly politically motivated and highlight a wider, vindictive push to silence others who took to the streets to voice their opposition, Amnesty International said.

Police have charged Maria Chin Abdullah, chairperson of the NGO coalition Bersih 2.0, on Tuesday, 3 November under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) for failing to give prior notice of at least ten days for a demonstration.

In late August, Bersih 2.0 organised the Bersih 4 rally when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across Malaysia to voice frustration with government corruption and human rights issues.

“These vindictive charges against Maria Chin Abdullah are clearly politically motivated and should be dropped immediately. The authorities in Malaysia are trying to punish those who voice their opposition peacefully and create an overall climate of fear to deter other activists from doing the same,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia campaigns director.

“Instead of listening to the people who demonstrated at the Bersih 4 rally, the Malaysian government is doing everything in its power to increase repression further.”

On 21 October, Bersih 2.0 organiser in the Malaysian state of Sabah Jannie Lasimbang – who is a known human rights activist – was also charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act, but has since been released on bail. She faces trial later this month.

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If convicted, Maria Chin Abdullah and Jannie Lasimbang could face a maximum fine of up to RM10,000 (over $2,000).

The charges come in the context of a widening crackdown on freedom of expression in Malaysia over the past two years.

The authorities have in particular made use of the Sedition Act, a draconian colonial-era law that gives the government sweeping powers to silence dissent.

Prime Minister Najib Razak had pledged to repeal the law in 2012, but instead it has only been used more frequently. Over the past two years, scores of people have been arrested and charged with sedition.

Around 100 people have been probed, arrested or charged under the Sedition Act since the beginning of 2015 alone – a huge spike from last year’s known total of 29.

More recently, on 20 October, Sivarasa Rasiah, a lawmaker with the opposition People Justice Party (PKR), was charged with sedition for allegedly criticising the judiciary at the #KitaLawan rally held early this year. The rally was called to demand the release of opposition leader and prisoner of conscience Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed on “sodomy” charges earlier this year.

“The government’s relentless effort to silence anyone who voices critical opinions of the state is incredibly alarming, and shows no sign of letting up. This must end immediately – space for public debate in Malaysia is under serious threat,” said Josef Benedict.

Josef Benedict is Amnesty International’s South East Asia campaigns director.

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