Malaysian youth activist and Selangor state assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad has been arrested again. His detention follows a mass rally yesterday in which thousands of people marched through central Kuala Lumpur calling for the release of the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the resignation of the prime minister Najib Razak, and reform of Malaysia’s judiciary.
The organisers estimated the crowd to number more than 10,000 people.
Nik Nazmi’s lawyer, Melissa Sasidaran, said the Selangor state assemblyman had been detained by police and would be brought to the Jinjang lock-up later today.
Sasidaran said on Twitter this morning that Nik Nazmi was being detained under section 9 (5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act and section 143 of the Penal Code.
“Police are detaining him because, according to them, he is a repeat offender. Could apply for a remand this morning itself but refused,” Sasidaran tweeted.
She said the assemblyman would spend the night in the lock-up and would be remanded at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Nik Nazmi, who is the youth leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), went to the Dang Wangi police headquarters in central KL this morning to record his statement over the demonstrations that have been held every Saturday afternoon since Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on February 10.
Nik Nazmi, youth activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim, and the head of the PKR-backed Jingga 13 non-governmental organisation Fariz Musa were all arrested last month under Section 143.
Adam and Fariz were detained on February 21 and were held overnight in the Jingang lock-up, then were released on police bail, but Nik Nazmi, who was detained on February 22, was released after about four hours. None of the three were charged. Adam, however, is in the throes of an appeal against a conviction and 12-month jail sentence for sedition.
Lawyers criticise use of Section 143
Several lawyers have criticised the use of Section 143 against those assembling peacefully. The provision should only come into play, they say, when there is criminal force.
The Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA), introduced in 2012, imposes restrictions and conditions on matters such as the date, time, duration, place, and manner of an assembly.
Nik Nazmi challenged the constitutionality of a previous charge and, in a landmark judgement in April last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that no penal sanctions could be imposed on organisers for failing to give police ten days’ notice of an upcoming rally.
Nik Nazmi had at that time been charged with failing to give the police sufficient notice before organising the Black 505 rally at the Kelana Jaya stadium on May 8, 2013.
Sasidaran said today that she had no idea what was meant by “repeat offender”. Nik Nazmi, she said, had been repeatedly discharged by the court in relation to Black 505, and had not been convicted.
One of Anwar’s lawyers, Latheefa Koya, tweeted: “section 9(5) of paa is not good law anymore. How can they say niknazmi is repeat offender? he has yet to be convicted- he was acquitted!”
Nazmi called for consistent protest
Yesterday, Nik Nazmi said the most recent rally was a success and the turn-out was much bigger than the organisers had expected. He considered 10,000 to be a conservative estimate. “I think the message is very clear that the people are with us,” he said.
The conduct at yesterday’s rally, Nik Nazmi said, had proved to police that the assemblies could be peaceful and should be allowed to continue.
The assemblyman for Seri Setia told the crowd that Najib was the worst and the weakest prime minister in the history of Malaysia. “If we continue to be consistent in gathering and speaking up against Najib, we can topple him; we can get him to resign.”
Malaysia’s federal court upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year, which found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008, and sentenced the former deputy prime minister to five years in prison.
Anwar says the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies and the verdict has been strongly criticised both locally and internationally.