In the continued clampdown on opposition in Malaysia, Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is the MP for Lembah Pantai and Anwar Ibrahim’s eldest daughter, has been arrested and will be detained overnight in the Jinjang lock-up
Nurul Izzah (pictured above), who is also vice-president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party) went to the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur to give a statement and was detained under the Sedition Act.
She has been arrested over a speech she read out on behalf of her father in parliament last Tuesday (March 10), in which Anwar criticised his imprisonment for five years for sodomy.
Nurul Izzah’s lawyer, Sivarasa Rasiah, tweeted that there had been a decision to remand her in Jinjang overnight and to apply for a further remand tomorrow. “Malicious abuse of power!” he tweeted.
He tweeted earlier that she had been taken to another part of the Dang Wangi station, without lawyers, to be fingerprinted and photographed.
He also tweeted that her arrest was “an affront to parliamentary privilege and immunity of parliamentarians”. Remand was for investigations, he said, and there was nothing to investigate if the offence was supposed to be Nurul Izzah’s speech in parliament. “It’s there in the Hansard.”
The deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said: “The arrest of MP Nurul Izzah Anwar shows that the Malaysian government seems to know no bounds in its efforts to stifle free speech and criminalize dialogue that would be a normal part of political discourse in much of the rest of the world.
“The Prime Minister Najib and his government are shamefully using the Sedition Act like an axe to hack down opposition politicians, community activists, and any others who dare speak their minds.”
Robertson added: “Prime Minister Najib needs to recognize that every sedition arrest of an opposition political leader is another step towards the destruction of rights-respecting democracy in Malaysia, and bring this campaign of abuse to an end.”
The executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, tweeted that the arrest of Nurul Izzah was “totally unnecessary”. He said it was shocking that the MP was under sedition investigation for a speech made in parliament. “This is clearly harassment & intimidation,” he tweeted.
The Democratic Action Party parliamentary leader and MP for Raub, Lim Kit Siang, tweeted that Nurul Izzah’s arrest was “a gross abuse of police powers” as MPs had immunity for speeches in parliament except in the case of four entrenched subjects.
Another MP, N.Surendran, who is also one of Anwar Ibrahim’s lawyers, said in a statement: “This police investigation is illegal, unconstitutional and a serious interference with the rights and privileges of parliament.”
N.Surendran said there was a limited exception to parliamentary immunity. “Action can only be taken against MPs for words uttered which fall under section 3(1)(f) of the Sedition Act 1948, i.e. on citizenship, the position of rulers, national language or special position of Malays.
“In other words, MPs cannot be charged for anything said in parliament unless they question the foregoing ‘sensitive’ matters.”
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 the opposition leader was an oppressive ruling that would have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in Malaysia.
An application had been made for the opposition leader to be allowed to attend the month-long parliamentary session, including Tuesday’s opening, but it was rejected by the prisons department.
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’s exclusion from the sitting.
N.Surendran said today that the investigation against Nurul Izzah should be dropped immediately. “We hold the Home Minister fully responsible for this interference with the Dewan Rakyat (parliament) … the minister must provide an explanation to the Dewan Rakyat as to how and why such an investigation was sanctioned and commenced.”
The parliamentary speaker should, N. Surendran added, initiate an immediate inquiry into the “blatant breach of parliamentary privilege by the inspector general of police and the state police chief”.
Nurul Izzah’s arrest follows the lodging of a police report by the former Kulim- Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Noordin on March 12. He alleged that there were seditious tendencies in Nurul Izzah’s speech to parliament.
Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar, said in a statement that Nurul Izzah had been arrested under the Sedition Act to assist police in the investigation into the March 7 Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rally “and for making contemptuous remarks that those in the judiciary system had sold their souls to the devil”. She would be released, he said, once her statement had been recorded.
PKR youth deputy chief Fahmi Fadzil challenged Khalid Abu Bakar, saying that only alleged sedition was marked on the arrest sheet, and there was no mention of Kita Lawan.
Eric Paulsen tweeted: “Statement could have been taken today – detention is to punish her.”
Police went to Nurul Izzah’s home last Friday, but she was out of town, on her way to Kota Baru in Kelantan. She said at that time that the visit to her home was unnecessarily harsh given that she had already agreed to give a statement to police today about the protest rally on March 7, which brought about 10,000 people out onto the streets of KL.
Series of arrests
The arrest of Nurul Izzah is 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 on February 10, and comments condemning Anwar’s jailing.
The demonstrators are calling for Anwar’s release, the resignation of the prime minister Najib Razak, and reform of Malaysia’s judiciary.
On Saturday (March 14), three activists were arrested. Adam Adli Abdul Halim and Mandeep Singh were arrested after a small, peaceful rally in central Kuala Lumpur 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.
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.
Teo’s lawyer, Wong Kah Woh, said police had requested a four-day remand for the Rasah MP, but the magistrate granted one day.
Adam and Mandeep are still being held in the Jinjang lock-up, but Teo was released on Sunday night.
The magistrate ordered a three-day remand for Adam and Mandeep because they were said to be “flight risks”, Eric Paulsen, who is their lawyer, said on Twitter yesterday.
He said it was strange that the magistrate had brought up the issue of “flight risk” when the police had not raised it during the remand application.
Paulsen said Adam and Mandeep regularly met the police, so it was astounding that the magistrate could conclude the two were flight risks.
He tweeted: “Judiciary must protect our constitutional rights. Adam & Mandeep should not spend another minute in detention for exercising these rights.”
He added today that the High Court judge Kamardin had declined to hear the application for revision of Adam and Mandeep’s remand order.
The DAP secretary-General and MP for Bagan, Lim Guan Eng, said in a statement yesterday that the DAP condemned the police for delaying far longer than necessary the release from detention of Teo, Adam, and Mandeep Singh. He said the police were abusing Section 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code in seeking a four day remand order over the three men’s involvement in the Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rallies.
He added: “Do the police need to have a four-day remand order to complete investigations on a peaceful assembly which is considered by the United Nations as a fundamental human right of freedom and not a criminal act? There is no need for detention, the entire process can be completed in less than 24 hours.”
Detention under the Peaceful Assembly Act
In February, activists were being arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code or the Sedition Act, 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 (pictured left) – who is the PKR youth leader 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 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.
Fariz Musa was also arrested again – on March 10.
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.
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.
Concern over Anwar’s health
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.
Anwar remains the MP for Permatang Pauh until a decision on a petition for a royal pardon, filed by his family, is made.
Although the appeal for clemency will technically be decided upon by the Federal Territories Pardon Board, the king, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, will be the one who decides whether or not the petition is granted.
There is no set time for when the application must be heard. The petition could be decided upon in a matter of days, but could also remain unheard for years
Arrests since March 7; infographic courtesy of Malaysiakini.