The clampdown on Malaysian demonstrators continued yesterday (Saturday) with the detention of three more activists. Adam Adli Abdul Halim and Mandeep Singh were arrested after a small, peaceful rally in central Kuala Lumpur this afternoon and, earlier in the day, police detained the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Socialist youth chief Teo Kok Seong, who is the MP for Rasah in Negeri Sembilan.
All three are being held overnight in the Jinjang lock-up.
These are the latest in a series of arrests over the rallies that have been held every Saturday afternoon since the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years on February 10. An estimated 10,000 people turned out for last Saturday’s rally and march.
Teo Kok Seong was arrested after he arrived at the Dang Wangi police station to give his statement about his participation in the March 7 protest.
The demonstrators are calling for Anwar’s release, the resignation of the prime minister Najib Razak, and reform of Malaysia’s judiciary.
On February 10, the federal court upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year, which found Anwar (pictured left) guilty of sodomising his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008, and sentenced the former deputy prime minister to five years in prison.
The verdict has been heavily criticised both locally and internationally. Amnesty International said the decision to jail Anwar was an oppressive ruling that would have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in Malaysia.
According to a report on malaysiakini.com, there are continued concerns about Anwar’s health. The report said the 67-year-old politician’s blood pressure had dropped significantly since he was jailed.
Anwar has been in severe pain with back problems. At the start of his detention, his lawyers said he faced serious health risks because he was living in a bare cell with just a two inch-thick foam mattress on the floor, a bucket for bathing, and a squat toilet. He was later moved to a hospital cell.
Detention under the Peaceful Assembly Act
In February, activists were being arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code, but they are now also being detained under Section 9 (5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA).
Lawyers have condemned the arrests, saying Section 143 should not be used against those assembling peacefully. The provision, they say, should only come into play when there is criminal force. They add that, according to a previous Appeal Court ruling, Section 9 (5) of the PAA is currently null and void.
Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad – who is the youth leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party) and assemblyman for Seri Setia in Selangor state – was detained for three days after his arrest last Sunday. He was released on police bail on Tuesday evening (March 10).
He has filed a revision in the High Court to challenge a magistrate’s decision to remand him for three days.
Nik Nazmi had already been arrested on February 22 after a rally the previous day. On that occasion, he was released on police bail without charge after about four hours.
Adam (pictured left) has also now been arrested twice over the recent Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rallies. The first arrest was after the rally on February 21. Adam and the head of the PKR-backed Jingga 13 non-governmental organisation Fariz Musa were detained under Section 143 on the day of the rally and were held overnight in the Jingang lock-up. They were then released on police bail without charge.
Adam is also in the throes of an appeal against a conviction and 12-month jail sentence for sedition.
Others arrested include the PKR secretary-general Rafizi Ramli. The MP for Pandan was detained on Tuesday (March 10) under Section 9 (5) of the PAA after lodging a police report on the debt-ridden 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the government-owned sovereign wealth fund that is at the centre of a huge financial scandal. He was later released on police bail.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) youth treasurer Mohd Fakhrul Razi was detained overnight on March 11.
Kelana Jaya PKR youth leader Saifullah Zulkifli was detained last Saturday (March 7) under Section 143 and was released on March 10.
The secretary-general of the Malaysian Socialist Party, S. Arutchelvan (pictured left), was arrested on February 19 for alleged sedition. Arutchelvan was detained because of a party statement that said Anwar’s conviction was politically motivated. “If I am seditious, then millions of people in this country and all over the world are also seditious,” he said during one of the recent rallies.
When arresting S. Arutchelvan, police confiscated his computer, modem, and mobile phone.
Just after S. Arutchelvan was released on police bail on February 20, police detained activist Lawrence Jayaraj, also under the Sedition Act, over comments he posted on his Facebook page. He was released on February 22.
On February 11, the cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, was arrested for sedition over his criticism of the judiciary. A cartoon posted by Zunar on Twitter showed Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, as the judge in Anwar’s case. “Those in the black robes were proud when passing sentence,” Zunar tweeted. “The rewards from their political masters must be lucrative.”
The government had previously pledged to repeal the 1948 Sedition Act, which critics say is being used to stifle dissent, but it later announced that the Act would be retained and expanded.
Nik Nazmi’s lawyer, Eric Paulsen, said earlier this week that the assemblyman’s remand was “excessive and wrong in law”. He said the police were abusing Section 143 as the March 7 rally was peaceful and there was no element of criminal force.
The 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 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.
The assemblyman 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.
On April 25, 2014, the Court of Appeal ruled that the charge against Nik Nazmi under Section 9 (1) of the PAA be struck out. The court also ruled that Section 9 (5) of the PAA was unconstitutional.
Attempt to arrest Anwar’s daughter
Yesterday, police went to the home of PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is the MP for Lembah Pantai and Anwar Ibrahim’s eldest daughter, but she was out of town, on her way to Kota Baru in Kelantan.
A police report had been lodged against her by the former Kulim Bandar Baharu MP, Zulkifli Noordin, over her speech in parliament on Tuesday.
Nurul Izzah (pictured left) says the visit to her home was unnecessarily harsh given that she has already agreed to meet the police in the coming week. She is scheduled to give her statement about the March 7 rally to police on March 16 .
She tweeted: “4 policemen at home. Unfortunately otw to KB. There’s alr appt at IPD Dang Wangi 16th March. Don’t understand why harshness reqd”.
Protesters pledge to continue
Only a small number of protesters gathered for yesterday’s rally outside the SOGO department store. There were several speakers, and demonstrators staged a sit-down protest.
Adam said before his arrest that the only way to achieve change was to go down to the streets and keep pushing. “We expected the arrests and the intimidation. We are on high alert. We make sure that we update each other on Anwar’s condition, and we know right away if someone has been arrested.”
Adam’s father, Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid, said his own resolve was being strengthened by his son’s repeated arrests. “We will still fight because we must fight. This is a fight for freedom.”
There was a suggestion by someone on Twitter yesterday that holding the Kita Lawan protests every Saturday is unsustainable, but the activists say momentum needs to be maintained and built up, no matter how many people turn out.
The PKR state assemblyman for Teja in Perak, Chang Lih Kang (pictured left), said: “We are here to remind people that injustice is still happening in Malaysia.” He urged Malaysians to join the mass rally planned for Labour Day on May 1.
He said all the arrests over the rallies were unwarranted and unreasonable. “This is sheer abuse of power,” he said. The rallies, including the one on March 7, had been peaceful, Lih Kang said. “The police should stop harassing our leaders and be professional in dealing with peaceful assembly.”
The arrests would not weaken the protesters’ spirit, Lih Kang added. “We are going to continue every week.”
Lih Kang says Malaysians are conservative and are not used to expressing themselves openly so mobilising large numbers of people takes time. He says all the communities in Malaysia are equally angry, but people from the Chinese community are more used to making their voices heard.
He says the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on April 1 will be a big mobilising factor. “After that I think a lot of people will feel the heat.”
MPs shave their heads
On Tuesday (March 10), more than 15 opposition activists, including two MPs and three state assemblymen, shaved their heads outside parliament in protest at Anwar Ibrahim’s exclusion from the sitting. An application had been made for the opposition leader to be allowed to attend the month-long session, including Tuesday’s opening of parliament, but it was rejected by the prisons department.
One of those who shaved his head was activist Kenneth Cheng (pictured left). “In the Chinese tradition, when we shave our heads, it is a show of dissent. With this action we are showing our dissent towards the government of Malaysia and about the way it has abused the judicial system for its own ends.
“It shows our solidarity with Anwar Ibrahim and all those who have been remanded over these rallies. We are sick of all the corruption and the way the government is abusing its power to continue its rule over Malaysia.”
No-one was hurt during the March 7 rally, Kenneth Cheng says, “so there is absolutely no justification for the police to detain the members of the secretariat of Kita Lawan”.
Spanning the generations
Twenty-four-year-old Amir Abd Hadi (pictured left), who has already been an activist for three years, says that, despite the arrests, the demonstrations will go on. “Even though they are capturing our leaders and putting them into the lock-up, we will come here to SOGO every Saturday in solidarity with Anwar Ibrahim and with the people of this country.
“As young Malaysians we have a responsibility to ensure that our country will prosper and be peaceful. We must bring justice to the system.”
Amir is prepared to be detained. “We wouldn’t be here,” he said, “if we were not ready to be arrested.”
Aiman Hakim, 32, says the spirit of solidarity among the activists is keeping them going. It is not the number of protesters that is the most important, he says; it is their commitment.
Sixty-four-year-old Siew Yen has been at every rally since Anwar was jailed and is always at the front of the marches. She says she has been involved in activism since the age of 60 because of the “unfair treatment of Malaysian people by the government”.
Michael Tamil has been an activist since the time of the Reformasi (Reform) movement in 1998. “The struggle now is the same. We have given Barisan Nasional many opportunities to institute reform. In the run-up to every election they have promised the people that they will change, that they will bring justice, and that they will not interfere with the judicial system, but, after the election is over, they start again.
“For example, Najib said the Sedition Act would be abolished, but it is still in place under a different name.
“The only choice we have now is to go down to the street and protest. We have made up our minds that we want justice to be done in Malaysia. The protests will go on and will be very big. They are just building up now.
“The more they restrict us, the more people will take to the streets. It is not just about the injustice done to Anwar, it is about the injustices done to the people of Malaysia in general.”
Michael Tamil also thinks GST will mobilise large numbers of people because it will affect them financially. “Then there is the 42 billion ringgit that has disappeared in the 1MDB scandal.”
On the continued arrests, he said: “We are not intimidated by this kind of cowardly action. We will still fight.”