Malaysia: Police Chief Justifies Bersih Rally Leader’s Detention

Muzliza Mustafa
Kuala Lumpur
161123-MY-bersih-620.jpg A supporter of Maria Chin Abdullah holds a sign during the Bersih 5 rally in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 19, 2016.
Hadi Azmi/BenarNews

Malaysia’s police chief Wednesday denied allegations that the leader of a coalition advocating clean government and electoral reforms has been mistreated in solitary confinement, but confirmed that Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested for activities deemed detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Chin, the chairwoman of the Bersih coalition, was arrested on Nov. 18 because of documents discovered during a raid at Bersih’s offices that day, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said.

Chin was taken into custody on the eve of a massive rally in Kuala Lumpur that she and other activists were organizing to highlight Prime Minister Najib Razak’s alleged involvement in a corruption scandal known as the 1MDB affair, which he has denied.

“She was detained because what we found threatens national security,” Khalid told a news conference, declining to divulge the contents of the documents as he cited an ongoing investigation.

Since her arrest, Chin has received sufficient medical attention, Khalid said as he defended himself against criticism from a group of NGOs. In a joint letter, they called for her release and alleged that she was being kept in solitary confinement in a small, windowless cell with lights on all the time.

“The doctor also had visited her three times since her detention,” Khalid said, adding that a doctor was on standby for any emergency.

On Tuesday Chin received a visit from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), led by Razali Ismail. He said Chin appeared to be in good health and her cell was acceptable in terms of cleanliness.

“The so-called bed has no mattress and she has to wash with cold water. She indicated that she would like a mattress at the very least to cushion the discomfort of the wooden bed.

“Chin has also requested a copy of the Quran and reading materials, as well as to be able to see her children and family,” Razali said about the 90-minute visit, in a statement issued on Wednesday.

Khalid said Chin did not make a request but that police would provide those items if such a request were made.

Arrest linked to documents

Chin was arrested under Malaysia’s Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), which allow authorities to hold her for 28 days without charges, Khalid confirmed.

“SOSMA can be used not only for counterterrorism but also for human trafficking as well as offenses that can threaten the national security,” Khalid said, defending the arrest.

Chin was among at least 24 rally organizers and supporters from Bersih along with counter rally group Red Shirts who were arrested prior to, during and after the Bersih 5 rally. All others have been released.

Jamal Md Yunos, the leader of the pro-government Red Shirts, and three activists from his group were released on police bail on Tuesday.

“SUHAKAM continues to hold the position that Maria Chin Abdullah is unjustifiably incarcerated and would like to reiterate that in accordance with Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” Razali said, adding Chin has been interrogated for three hours since her arrest.

Since Monday, hundreds of Malaysians have participated in vigils at Kuala Lumpur’s Independence Square, demanding Chin’s release. Rallies will be held each night until she is free, a Bersih official said.

Police probe OSF links

Meanwhile, police are investigating Bersih’s possible links to the Open Society Foundations (OSF) funded by George Soros. Khalid said Chin had admitted to receiving funds from OSF.

“It’s not like we do not know OSF’s track record. How many countries have they toppled,” Khalid said without releasing any details.

Chin admitted that her group had received a grant of $70,000 ringgit (U.S. $15,750) from OSF between 2010 and 2011, but OSF denied Khalid’s charges, the Asia Sentinel reported.

“The Open Society Foundations are proud to have supported civil society in Malaysia for 10 years. Claims that the Open Society Foundations funded attempts to overthrow the government in Malaysia are entirely false,” the group said in a statement emailed to the South China Morning Post.


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