Malaysia: Bersih Leader Grounded From Flying Abroad

Haireez Azeem Azizi
2016.05.16
Kuala Lumpur
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160516-my-mariachin620.jpg Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah (center) speaks to journalists after being questioned at Kuala Lumpur police headquarters about a massive rally organized by the group in the city, Sept. 2, 2015.
AFP

The leader of a Malaysian grassroots movement who planned to pick up a human rights award in South Korea said she could not board an international flight after the government barred her from traveling abroad.

“This action is an infringement on my constitutional right and freedom of movement,” Maria Chin Abdullah, chairwoman of Bersih – a coalition of Malaysian NGOs and activist groups advocating clean government and fair and transparent elections – told BenarNews.

“It is politically motivated and shows a desperate government clutching on to power when it should be accountable and engaging with the people on key issues challenging this country.”

She had expected to fly to Seoul on Sunday to receive the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights, which recognizes individuals and organizations who promote and advance rights, democracy and peace. Past recipients include Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar and former East Timorese (Timor-Leste) President Xanana Gusmao.

Bersih was being honored with the award in recognition of the bravery and commitment of Malaysians who have championed greater democracy and rights throughout the years, Chin said.

Bersih, which means “clean,” was founded in November 2006 and has since spearheaded massive street demonstrations in the country. In August 2015, it organized protests throughout the country that called for the ouster of Prime Minister Najib Razak over a corruption scandal linked to the indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Days before a main rally in Kuala Lumpur rally drew about 200,000 demonstrators, according to Bersih, the Malaysian government blocked four Bersih websites in an effort to quell the protest.

‘We have the power to bar anyone’

Chin said she had expected to be able to fly to Seoul, believing that a previous travel ban was no longer in effect.

“I asked in December 2015 to check if there was a travel ban, but was told it was lifted since 2012. This seems to be a new order from Putrajaya,” she said, referring to the Malaysian government. “The action to control citizens’ mobility is a total violation of our democratic rights.”

On Monday, Malaysian immigration officials and Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed did not respond to multiple requests for comment from BenarNews. But he told reporters at parliament that the government did not have to explain its reasons for a travel ban.

“We have the power to bar anyone from leaving the country,” he said. “Every citizen is given the right to a passport, so the passport can be revoked by the government.

“Travel conditions are attached to the passport and the condition is that the passport is the first document you must have. We can also pull back the passport,” he added.

1MDB affair

International investigators are examining Prime Minister Najib’s role in a financial scandal involving 1MDB, particularly an investigation into how nearly U.S. $700 million ended up in his personal bank accounts prior to the general election in 2013.

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Najib used 1MDB funds to pay for lavish holidays, shopping and jewelry. The newspaper reported that the prime minister spent up to $15 million on holidays and at luxury stores in the United States, Malaysia and Italy.

Regarding the bank deposit of $681 million, Malaysia’s attorney general has declared no wrongdoing on Najib’s part, and a Saudi Arabian official claimed the money was a personal donation from the Saudi Royal family. For his part, Najib has maintained that he never used any of this money for personal gain.

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