Malaysia accused of ‘abuse of law’ in rally crackdown
RIGHTS groups condemned Malaysia’s government for a crackdown on organisers of last weekend’s antigovernment rally, including the arrest of the protest leader under a tough law aimed at terrorism.
Tens of thousands of people flooded Kuala Lumpur with the yellow colours of the reformist movement on November 19 to demand Prime Minister Najib Razak resign and face justice over a massive corruption scandal.
Authorities arrested more than a dozen people before, during and after the demonstration, including Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of the “Bersih” civil society alliance that staged the rally.
Most detainees have been released but Ms Chin remains in solitary confinement under a national security law that allows detention without charge for 28 days and can bring a lengthy prison sentence.
Six Asian human rights organisations in a joint statement called the crackdown a grave breach of basic rights. The statement was released by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
The groups said they were especially “alarmed” at Ms Chin’s detention under a national security law introduced in 2012 by Mr Najib’s government with a promise it would not be used against political opponents.
The protest was the second in 15 months by Bersih to highlight allegations that billions of dollars were plundered from sovereign fund 1MDB, Mr Najib’s pet investment project.
Mr Najib, 63, and 1MDB deny wrongdoing. But the US Justice Department earlier this year detailed an audacious campaign of fraud and money-laundering by his family, associates and an unnamed “Malaysian Official 1” – a thinly veiled reference to Mr Najib.
Mr Najib last year abruptly fired the attorney general and shut down domestic investigations. His government has increasingly throttled the media and whistle-blowers to contain the scandal.
Bersih, in a statement, said Ms Chin was being held in a tiny windowless cell with no mattress.
It called for international pressure on authorities and said nightly vigils would be held on her behalf at central Kuala Lumpur’s Independence Square.
Critics accuse Mr Najib’s government of trampling rights following a 2013 election in which his ruling coalition lost the popular vote.
Maria Chin is being held under a tough anti-terrorism law.