Freedom House Condemns Arrest of Demonstrators in Malaysia

Freedom House condemns the arrest of demonstrators and journalists at an April 28th rally calling for free and fair elections in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is disturbed by reports that police attacked media to prevent the documentation of police violence against demonstrators.

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 rally, which drew around 80,000 participants, took place around the Dataran Merdeka, an historic public square in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. A court order prevented demonstrators from entering the square, but they broke through the barricades in protest. Police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons at the protesters. More than 500 demonstrators were arrested but have since been released. 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.

The April 28th rally was Bersih’s third major protest since their 2007 rally, which drew 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 "Bersih 2.0" protest, which 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. Freedom House calls on the Malaysian government to allow peaceful assemblies to proceed without further disruption or harassment.

“The Bersih demonstrations reflect the desire of the Malaysian people for a more transparent and fair electoral system,” said Daniel Calingaert, vice president for policy and external affairs at Freedom House.  “Unfortunately, Malaysian authorities continue to violate the basic rights to freedom of expression and association instead of responding constructively to the legitimate demands of Bersih.”

Malaysia is rated Partly Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 survey, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.

Learn more:

Freedom in the World 2011: Malaysia
Freedom of the Press 2011: Malaysia
Malaysian Senate Passes Peaceful Assembly Bill
Malaysian Government’s Brutal Crackdown Violates Fundamental Rights