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Freedom House Calls on Malaysian Authorities to Allow Free Assembly
Freedom House calls on Malaysian authorities to cease efforts to bar a peaceful sit-in protest, planned for April 28, calling for electoral reform. The rally is to take place at Dataran Merdeka, an historic public square in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. The event was organized by the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, known as Bersih, an alliance of civil society groups and political parties calling for a variety of election reforms. The group argues that under Malaysia’s recently-approved Peaceful Assembly Act, police may impose conditions on planned assemblies, but are not allowed to bar them outright. However, the country’s Magistrates’ Court recently issued a ban on the event and warned the public not to attend any gathering at Merdeka Square over the weekend of the 28th. The Square has been barricaded and closed to the public for the next two days.
Saturday’s rally would be Bersih’s third major protest since 2007, when the coalition’s first event drew in 60,000 attendees. More than 1,600 people, including nine prominent human rights activists and Bersih leaders, were arrested while participating in the group’s 2011 protest, called Bersih 2.0. The gathering was suppressed by roadblocks, preemptive arrests of participants, and attacks with tear gas, batons, and water cannons.
After Bersih 2.0 the Malaysian Senate passed the deceptively titled Peaceful Assembly Bill in December 2011, placing new restrictions on public demonstrations, including a ban on street protests and new powers for police forces to arrest participants. Bersih 3.0 will be an important test for the law. Officials claim that alternative venues have been offered for the event, but protest organizers say the offers came too late and were for locations too far from the city center. Freedom House stands with Bersih in rejecting the moves by authorities to prevent the protest, and calls on Malaysia to uphold its obligations under its own Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to allow peaceful assemblies to proceed without further disruption or harassment.
Malaysia is rated Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 survey, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2012.
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