The clampdown on the opposition in Malaysia is continuing with the arrest today of the MP for Batu, Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua (pictured left).
The MP tweeted from Dang Wangi police station in central Kuala Lumpur that he had been detained under Section 143 of the Penal Code and Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA).
Police went to Tian Chua’s house at about midnight last night, but, at about 1 a.m., they agreed to leave without arresting the MP after getting an assurance that he would report to the Dang Wangi station this morning. The MP had previously already agreed to go to Dang Wangi to give a statement on Sunday (March 22).
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a statement calling for Tian Chua’s immediate release and urging the Malaysian government “to end all forms of harassment against persons for their participation in peaceful assemblies”.
The ICJ’s international legal advisor for Southeast Asia, Emerlynne Gil, said: “At least 11 opposition figures associated with the Kita Lawan rally have now been targeted by the authorities, who have been arresting and detaining them for 24 hours as a form of harassment and intimidation.
“It seems that Malaysia is rapidly returning to the dark days during the late 1980s of systematic pre-trial and arbitrary detention under the Internal Security Act.”
Lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah tweeted last night: “We told the police it’s a contempt of Parliament to harass MPs; finally sense prevailed when we said @tianchua will go at 11 am t’row.”
Tian Chua, who is also vice-president of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), will spend the night in the Jinjang lock-up, where there will be a remand hearing at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Police are expected to request an extension of his detention.
There have been a series of detentions over the Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rallies that have been held every Saturday afternoon since the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim began a five-year jail sentence on February 10. Several of the detentions have lasted for three days.
On March 7, about 10,000 people took to the streets. The demonstrators are calling for Anwar’s release, the resignation of the prime minister Najib Razak, and reform of Malaysia’s judiciary. Tian Chua is one of those at the forefront of the protests.
Numerous people have also been arrested under the Sedition Act over comments they have made condemning Anwar’s jailing.
Anwar’s eldest daughter, Nurul Izzah, who is the MP for Lembah Pantai and also a PKR vice-president, was arrested on Monday (March 16) and held overnight in the Jinjang lock-up. She was detained under the Sedition Act for a speech she made in parliament last Tuesday (March 10) on behalf of her father.
Lawyers have condemned the arrests under Section 143, which they say 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.
Emerlynne Gil tweeted earlier today: “#Malaysia abusing law to harass #KitaLawan participants … detaining them for “investigation” and violating presumption of innocence.”
Nurul Izzah said on her release: “The Sedition Act is so wide. It is so arbitrary. How to escape it unless you are an UMNO member?”
UNMO (the United Malays National Organisation) is the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. The party has been in power for the past 57 years.
Nurul Izzah also said she expected her sister Nurul Nuha to be questioned by police soon.
Tian Chua is the fourth MP to be arrested since the mass rally on March 7, and seven other people, including an assemblyman, have been detained. There were several other arrests in February.
Tian Chua burst into the limelight in 1999 when images of him sitting defiantly in front of a police water cannon truck were splashed across the global media at the height of the Reformasi (Reform) movement that followed the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim as deputy prime minister.
He has been arrested many times and spent two years in detention under the Internal Security Act. He was one of the “Reformasi 10” and was held for two months incommunicado in a police watchhouse in Kampong Bharu.
He said after his release: “The solitary confinement was the most torturous. It was killing me. I was blindfolded and handcuffed every time I left the cell. I could only hear the sounds of others, but could not see them. The isolation was so bad that I ended up looking forward to the interrogation.”
Tian Chua says recent events show that Malaysia is going backwards against the trend of the whole region, which, he says, has been experiencing gradual democratisation. “We still haven’t resolved some very basic issues such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech,” he told Changing Times recently.
He said people had the right to organise peaceful rallies that were not endangering people or obstructing property. “The young people who are gathering are merely exercising their rights as citizens,” he said. “They are not criminal and the police should leave them alone.”
He added: “I have been involved with public assembly since 1998 and we have struggled very hard. Finally we managed to pass a Peaceful Assembly Act in parliament. The police are not acting according to the spirit of the law when they arrest and intimidate people participating in peaceful assembly.”
Anwar has been imprisoned three times, Tian Chua says, and each time the prosecutions were politically motivated. In the case of the most recent conviction, Najib’s fingerprints are everywhere, Tian Chua alleges.
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.
There was also widespread condemnation of the arrest of Nurul Izzah. 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.”
Two other activists, Adam Adli Abdul Halim and Mandeep Singh, were also released on police bail on March 16. They were detained in Jinjang after their arrest last Saturday (March 14) at the end of a small, peaceful rally in central Kuala Lumpur. Adam was also arrested along with the head of the PKR-backed Jingga 13 non-governmental organisation Fariz Musa at the end of a Kita Lawan rally on February 21.
Two hours after Nurul Izzah was released, the deputy chairman of the Human Rights and Legal Bureau of the PKR, S. Jayathas, was arrested under Section 143, accused of illegal assembly. He had gone to the Dang Wangi police station in KL to give a statement.
He was questioned over the Kita Lawan rallies and was released on police bail at about 8.30 p.m.
The organisers of the Kita Lawan rallies say the protests will continue outside the SOGO department store, and there will also be a week-long sit-in protest in Merdeka Square to demand the resignation of Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Khalid Abu Bakar.
The Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) opposition coalition, which comprises the PKR, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), will also put forward a motion in parliament to censure Khalid Abu Bakar for arresting an MP over a speech made in parliament.
Nurul Izzah said her arrest was a blatant abuse of power by Khalid Abu Bakar as she had immunity under Article 63(2) of the federal constitution to raise issues in parliament. She added: “I hold the prime minister responsible for allowing transgressions against parliamentarians.”
Lawyers criticised police for insisting on going to Nurul Izzah’s house to obtain a hard copy of the speech she gave in parliament. It is publicly available in the Hansard record, they point out. The PKR communications director, Fahmi Fadzil, said there had been no reason whatsoever to detain Nurul Izzah overnight
Khalid Abu Bakar has been criticised for trawling through Twitter for opposition comments and using his account to issue warnings to government critics and to demand the arrest of those who dissent.
The DAP Socialist youth chief and MP for Rasah Teo Kok Seong; Selangor state assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad; the PKR secretary-general and MP for Pandan Rafizi Ramli; the PAS youth treasurer Mohd Fakhrul Razi; and the Kelana Jaya PKR youth leader Saifullah Zulkifli were all arrested in March.
Nik Nazmi has filed a revision in the High Court to challenge a magistrate’s decision to remand him for three days.
In February, police detained the cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar; the secretary-general of the Malaysian Socialist Party S. Arutchelvan; and activist Lawrence Jayaraj, all for alleged sedition.
There has been much criticism of the conditions under which the detainees have been held. Nurul Izzah was treated differently, but others have had to wear purple prison garb and have been handcuffed, and been obliged to go barefoot.
The PKR communications director, Fahmi Fadzil, said: “The treatment is very demeaning and we have protested against such treatment, especially since they are brought in to facilitate investigations. They are not even suspects; they are not convicts, but they are being treated like convicts.”
From left to right: Teo Kok Seong, Mandeep Singh, and Adam Adli in the Jinjang lock-up.
Emerlynne Gil said the Malaysian authorities were abusing their powers and using the law as a form of punishment even before detainees were convicted of, or even charged with, an actual crime. This, she said, was in violation of the right to presumption of innocence. “This abuse of pre-trial detention as a form of harassment aggravates the repressive atmosphere created by the recent misuse of sedition laws to silence critics.”
The ICJ also said Anwar Ibrahim’s trial was conducted “in violation of international human rights standards”.
Full statement from the International Commission of Jurists
Background on Tian Chua from Human Rights Watch