Malaysia: Bersih Activists, NGOs Call for Rally Organizer’s Release

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
161121-MY-bersih-lede-1000.jpg A group of Bersih supporters carry a banner as they march, Nov. 19, 2016.
Hadi Azmi/BenarNews

Supporters of a coalition advocating clean government began holding candlelight vigils Monday for its leader, who is being held in solitary confinement after her arrest on the eve of a massive protest she had spearheaded against Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.The Bersih coalition will hold nightly vigils for chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur until she is released from police custody, activists with the group vowed on Facebook.

Chin, who was arrested on Friday under Malaysia’s Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), could be held up for up to 28 days without charges, Chin’s lawyers and supporters said.

On Monday night, Bersih officials announced that her lawyers would seek a Habeas Corpus writ in court seeking that she be produced before a judge in hopes of securing her lawful release.

“We're doing all we can to get Maria released as soon as possible. Our lawyers have been working round-the-clock and, tomorrow, they will file a Habeas Corpus application in court,” the Bersih activists said.
Chin was among at least 24 rally organizers and Bersih supporters who were arrested under various sections of Malaysia’s criminal code ahead of the Bersih 5 demonstration, a group of six NGOs said in a joint letter issued Monday that called for Malaysia to drop all charges and free the activists.

According to the NGOs, at least another 14 Bersih supporters were arrested during and after the demonstration on Saturday, when tens of thousands of people marched and rallied in Kuala Lumpur to voice their criticism of the prime minister who has been linked to corruption allegations.

“These arrests violate international human rights standards. The Malaysia government should release all those arrested in connection with the Bersih 5 rallies immediately,” said the letter, co-signed by Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, Fortify Rights, Forum Asia, the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

This man didn’t wear a yellow T-shirt, but he was creative in showing his support for Bersih. [Hadi Azmi/BenarNews]

Solitary confinement

Except for Chin, many were released after 48 hours in custody, the NGOs said, but they added that authorities had also arrested leaders of pro-government groups known as the Red Shirts and Black Shirts. They had staged simultaneous counter-rallies against Bersih but in much smaller numbers, according to reports. Jamal Md Yunos and Ariffin Abu Bakar, the leaders of these respective groups, were still in custody late Monday, reports said.

The NGOs commented in detail on the arrest and detention of Maria Chin Abdullah.

“This is the first case where government authorities used SOSMA against a civil society representative. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years’ imprisonment,” they wrote.

Citing her lawyers, the NGOs noted that they had been denied access to Chin during the first two days of her custody and that she was being kept in solitary confinement.

“Her lawyers later on reported that Maria Chin Abdullah is being kept in a 15 feet by 8 feet windowless cell with no bed, concrete floors, and with two light bulbs kept on for 24 hours a day,” the NGOs said.


The police had declared the rallies being planned for Saturday illegal, and deployed thousands of officers to guard barricades and block roads leading to Independence Square – the intended rallying site for Bersih, a coalition of local NGOs that advocate transparent government and free and fair elections. The rally was largely peaceful and culminated in front of the iconic Petronas Towers.

Bersih activists have also called for the prime minister to resign over allegations of corruption linked to state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he has denied.

On Friday, Najib called the activists “a tool of the opposition” on his personal website.

“Their movement is deceitful. It is clear that these street protests are in fact the Opposition disguised as an independent NGO working to unseat a democratically-elected government,” Najib said.

“The silent majority of people are fed up with the tactics of the Opposition. They just want the Government to deliver for them, and that is what my team and I will continue to do.”

Pro-government Red Shirts hold a protest countering the Bersih 5 rally in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 19, 2016. [Muzliza Mustafa/BenarNews]


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.