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(Bangkok, 28 May 2013): The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) has condemned the charges filed against a number of activists and opposition leaders in Malaysia in relation to their exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in the past two weeks. The regional human rights group, representing 47 organisations from 16 countries across Asia, deplored what it called a post-elections crackdown on dissent by the government in the wake of allegations of electoral irregularities in the recently-concluded general elections in the country. The regional group charged that the country’s Prime Minister has reneged on his promises of greater respect for human rights since assuming power in 2009.
On 17 May 2013, a leader of the opposition People’s Justice Party and Selangor state assemblyperson Nik Nazmi was charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 for allegedly having failed to serve the police with sufficient notice for an Opposition-led rally at the Kelana Jaya Stadium on 8 May 2013 to protest against alleged electoral irregularities during recent general elections. Six other opposition leaders were subsequently charged under the same law for organising similar rallies in different locations throughout the country.
On 18 May 2013, student leader Adam Adli was arrested and subsequently charged under the Sedition Act on 23 May 2013, for allegedly uttering a seditious statement during a public forum, where he called for street protests against the government. A candlelight vigil that was held on 22 May 2013 to call for the release of Adam Adli resulted in 18 participants being arrested and questioned by the police. Then, on 23 May 2013, opposition leaders and activists – Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, and Haris Ibrahim – were arrested under the Sedition Act, a law which the Prime Minister promised to abolish in 2012.
FORUM-ASIA recently, on 8 May 2013, wrote an open letter to Malaysia’s Prime Minister,[1] urging the government to allow peaceful dissent in all forms beyond the holding of elections, in light of a warning that was made by the Inspector-General of Police that participants of a proposed rally on 8 May would be arrested. While the rally on 8 May subsequently proceeded peacefully without any arrests or police intervention, the government went on to charge the organiser of the said rally, together with six others for organising similar rallies in other parts of the country.
“We regret the charges against the organisers for having allegedly failed to serve the police with sufficient notice for the post-elections rallies. The rallies have proceeded peacefully, and these charges appear to be only aimed at silencing political opposition and discouraging the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country,” said Giyoun Kim, FORUM-ASIA’s Acting Executive Director.
Pointing out that the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai, has in both his previous[2] and upcoming reports[3] to the UN Human Rights Council expressed his concern over the restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Malaysia, including the flaws in Malaysia’s Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, FORUM-ASIA urged the government to drop all charges against organisers of recent post-elections rallies. “Continuing to pursue the charges against rally organisers under the Peaceful Assembly Act will only renew and heighten international criticism on Malaysia in this regard,” added Giyoun Kim.
FORUM-ASIA further expressed alarm over recent statements made by the Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi, who has warned that protestors will “pay a heavy price” if protests and rallies are to continue, and by the Kuala Lumpur police chief Mohmad Salleh, who has said that the police “can no longer tolerate” candlelight vigils.
“These statements are a blatant disregard for international human rights standards, and this is particularly appalling considering that Malaysia is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. The government must recognise that it has the duty to protect human rights, and therefore must enable and facilitate peaceful assemblies, instead of restricting them,” said Nalini Elumalai, Executive Director of SUARAM, a member of FORUM-ASIA in Malaysia.
The regional human rights group also called for the charges against Adam Adli under the Sedition Act to be dropped. If found guilty, Adam Adli could face a jail term of up to three years, fined up to MYR5,000 (approx. USD1,800), or both.
“The charge against Adam Adli under the Sedition Act is highly problematic and deplorable. The Sedition Act is a law that severely restricts freedom of expression, and the international community has repeatedly called for its repeal in the past. We remind the Prime Minister that he had publicly announced in 2012 that the Sedition Act will be repealed,” stressed Giyoun Kim.
“The Malaysian government must recognise that its international legitimacy as a self-proclaimed democratic government is already in jeopardy, and given that the international community is keenly watching the developments in Malaysia, it will only be in the interest of the government to end its crackdown on dissent and opposition, and drop all charges in relation to the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly,” added Giyoun Kim.
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