ASEAN MPs Criticize Malaysian Govt’s ‘Harassment’ of Opposition Lawmakers

Nisha David
2022.02.01
Kuala Lumpur
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ASEAN MPs Criticize Malaysian Govt’s ‘Harassment’ of Opposition Lawmakers Youths participate in a rally calling for the arrest of the country’s anti-graft chief over corruption allegations, in Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 22, 2022.
[S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Southeast Asian parliamentarians are urging Malaysia to stop the “harassment” of opposition lawmakers and political activists, after police hauled up several MPs for their involvement in anti-corruption demonstrations.

It is worrisome to see the Malaysian government use state machinery to intimidate opposition members, Philippine Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) group, said in a statement late Monday.

“The government’s reaction to legitimate peaceful protests calling for accountability in public office should not be to harass those demonstrating, but instead investigate their concerns,” she said.

“Demanding accountability and answers for corruption allegations is crucial in a democracy, and authorities must not impede that.”

APHR noted that in its 2021 annual report Parliamentarians at Risk, it had found that legal harassment of opposition MPs in Malaysia had risen alarmingly alongside a crackdown on free speech.

APHR’s latest statement referred to a rally, demonstration and other events in January, where members of youth political wings and lawmakers demanded the resignation or arrest of the country’s anti-graft chief Azam Baki over corruption allegations.

Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Baki is under scrutiny for shares he bought that allegedly “compromised the integrity and credibility of the anti-corruption body,” APHR said.

“With Malaysia recently dropping five places in Transparency International’s Corruption Index rating, there has been a widespread public outcry demanding accountability for the MACC chief and for genuine institutional reforms to be implemented,” APHR said.

A few days after a Jan. 22 rally against Baki, police began summoning federal and state lawmakers to give statements explaining their presence at the anti-corruption events.

Among those summoned were Fahmi Fadzil, Maszlee Malik and Maria Chin Abdullah, lawmakers from the People’s Justice Party (PKR).

Police claimed they were investigating them under the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act.

Fahmi said he and others were asked questions about their involvement in handing over a memorandum, which contained eight demands including Baki’s suspension, and for a royal inquiry into his purchase of shares. He said he cooperated during the interrogation, but added that such protest and demonstrations were needed in a democracy.

The public “needs to see the role of their MPs who raise the voice of the people inside and outside Parliament even if we give our full cooperation,” he told reporters.

“About 20 questions were asked by the police regarding involvement in the memorandum handover assembly, including their role and capacity, the identity of the organizers, the purpose of the assembly and whether standard operating procedures (SOP) were followed,” Fahmi said.

PKR lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar said this was “clearly political intimidation.”

“We see the abuse of the country’s asset, which is the police that is supposed to be used to investigate and solve people’s problems,” she told a local television channel.

“We know that there are variety of problems affecting Malaysia and this form of political intimidation is something we cannot tolerate. Home Minister please end this form of intimidation.”

APHR said that in a democracy citizens will demand accountability. In such a situation, APHR said the police should guard people’s rights, not intimidate.

“We stand in solidarity with our fellow parliamentarians, and remind the Malaysian government that a police force should be used, not to harass and intimidate government critics, but to protect and respect the people’s right to protest and free speech,” Hontiveros, the Philippine senator, said.

“Authorities must immediately end these threats, and use the state apparatus to hold those in public office accountable to the people.”

 Nani Yusof in Washington contributed to this report.

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