Malaysia: Bersih Leader Shares Details of 10-Day Detention

Hadi Azmi and Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
161128-MY-Chin-620.jpeg Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah (right) hugs her sister as son Aziman Yunus looks on, following Chin’s release from police custody in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 28, 2016.
Courtesy of Ambiga Sreenevasan

Malaysian authorities Monday freed the leader of a coalition advocating clean government after holding her for 10 days under one of the country’s tough national security laws and despite international criticism over her arrest.

Following her release, Bersih chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah described how police officers had blindfolded her as they escorted her each morning to hours-long interrogations over her grassroots movement and its connection to a U.S.-based NGO.

She also called her arrest under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) – which allows for up to 28 days of detention without charges – illegal.

“We will take legal action against my unlawful detention,” she said in a statement.

Chin was arrested on the eve of a mass protest that she and other Bersih activists were organizing in Kuala Lumpur for Nov. 19 to highlight Prime Minister Najib Razak’s alleged involvement in a corruption scandal, which he has denied.

Last week Malaysian Police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference that Chin was being investigated for activities deemed detrimental to parliamentary democracy and a threat to national security.

Khalid did not elaborate then but said Chin was arrested because of documents found during a raid at the Bersih offices in Kuala Lumpur, and that police were investigating possible links to the Open Society Foundations (OSF) funded by George Soros.

On Monday, Khalid declined to comment on Chin’s release, telling BenarNews he would soon convene another press conference on the case.

Chin was released on the eve of a scheduled hearing at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, which was to consider a Habeas Corpus writ from Chin’s lawyers seeking her release.

“This is a victory for Maria and all Malaysians who have stood with her this past week,” Eric Paulsen, executive director of local NGO Lawyers for Human Rights, told BenarNews.

Dozens of other pro-Bersih activists and supporters, as well as activists from a pro-government group – which staged a counter-Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 19 – were released last week from police custody but face potential charges in connection with the protests.

“The police freed her because they have no grounds for her detention,” Gurdial Singh Nijar, one of Chin’s lawyers, told Agence France-Presse on Monday.

Chin’s arrest and detention under SOSMA had drawn an outcry from human rights groups demanding her immediate release.

Alicia Edwards, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, weighed in on Nov. 23, telling Reuters, “We are troubled by the ongoing detention and solitary confinement of Maria Chin Abdullah under national security laws.”

Bread with coconut jam

In her statement, Chin described the conditions under which she was held in solitary confinement.

“In the morning, I was given bread with coconut jam. In the afternoon I was given rice with meat and water – same goes for my dinner,” she said.

After four days into her custody and following a visit by officials with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), she said she was finally given a mattress, pillow and blanket on which to sleep inside her windowless cell.

She was repeatedly taken for questioning at police headquarters, from morning until 6 p.m., where she was interrogated about Bersih and its links to OSF, she added.

“It was the same question for 10 days; on Bersih’s global movement, OSF and questions on Bersih’s social media – who is the administrator, who decides the contents and who holds the password,” Chin said.

Shuman Vasu and Muzliza Mustafa contributed to this report.


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.