Malaysian Government’s Brutal Crackdown Violates Fundamental Rights | Page 71 | Freedom House

Malaysian Government’s Brutal Crackdown Violates Fundamental Rights

Washington
Freedom House strongly condemns the brutal crackdown today by the Malaysian government against tens of thousands of demonstrators calling for clean and fair elections in Kuala Lumpur and calls on Malaysian authorities to respect the right of its citizens to free assembly and to immediately release all those detained.
More than 1,500 people were arrested including nine prominent human rights activists and opposition party figures who led the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0). Bersih 2.0, an alliance of civil society organizations has been campaigning for electoral reforms, transparency in government, and an end to the rampant corruption that colors Malaysian politics. Some of the leaders have been subsequently released. In the weeks leading up to the rally, over one hundred activists were arrested for wearing Bersih 2.0 t-shirts and distributing the group’s literature. During the last two days, police set up roadblocks on streets leading into the city cutting off access to all of the major arteries into Kuala Lumpur. Peaceful protesters who managed to maneuver through the road blocks were indiscriminately and brutally attacked with tear gas, batons, and water cannons infused with chemicals, with many suffering serious injuries. Sixteen minors were among those arrested.
“It is truly shameful that Malaysia, a UN Human Rights Council member, is engaging in this type of behavior that fundamentally violates the right to free assembly and expression,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “This blatant disregard for human rights norms is not the kind of conduct that is consistent with membership in an international human rights body.”
Section 73(1) of the draconian ISA gives the police the authority to detain any individual for up to 60 days without a warrant, trial, or access to legal counsel. For years, Malaysian civil society and human rights groups have expressed their deep concerns over this law, which fuels arbitrary arrests, detention, and impunity.  Freedom of assembly, although protected under the Malaysia constitution, is often limited on the grounds of maintaining security and public order.  Online newspaper Malaysiakini, which had been providing extensive coverage of the crackdown in the run up to the demonstration, was also subjected to a sustained distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on the day before the rally.
“Today, Malaysian men, women, and children, from every walk of life braved threats, harassment, and intimidation to come together to collectively express their strong dissatisfaction with the political status quo,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, senior program manager for Freedom House. “The brutal response and mass arrests of those who were peacefully walking and expressing their basic human rights is a clear indication that the ruling party has no intention of ever relinquishing its power through the democratic process. The government’s refusal to engage with its citizens in a peaceful and constructive dialogue reveals a government that is terrified of its people not one that is interested in political participation that is truly inclusive, free, and fair.”
In an effort to limit vote rigging and electoral fraud, Bersih 2.0 organizers issued a list of eight reforms that they want implemented before the next election, including marking voters’ fingers with indelible ink to prevent them from voting more than once, purging electoral rolls of phantom voters and ensuring that opposition parties have equal access to the mainstream news media. The group is also calling for a royal commission to investigate how elections are conducted.  A previous rally by Bersih in 2007 was attended by approximately 60,000 people and led to improved performance by the election commission in the 2008 election.
Malaysia is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011.
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