A group of activists in Malaysia have started a hunger strike in protest over the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and other demonstrators are staging a week-long sit-in next to Kuala Lumpur’s famous Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square).
Police prevented the demonstrators from entering the square, so they set up camp on the roadside opposite.
A small group of protesters marched to Merdeka Square from the SOGO department store, where rallies have been held every Saturday afternoon since Anwar Ibrahim (pictured left) was jailed on February 10.
On March 7, about 10,000 people took to the streets.
Protesters are still demanding Anwar’s release, the resignation of the prime minister, Najib Razak, and the reform of the judiciary, but they are also now calling for the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Khalid Abu Bakar, to resign or to be sacked.
Activist Michael Tamil said yesterday (Saturday) that the police had no right to close off Merdeka Square to the demonstrators. “They have no court order to do that.”
Speaking to demonstrators, Mariel Fong (pictured below), who describes herself as an “ordinary, loyal, but angry citizen of Malaysia”, said of Khalid Abu Bakar: “You and Najib and the Cabinet ministers truly make us ashamed as Malaysians.
“You, Najib, and UMNO; you are the threat to our security because of your corruption and because of your nonsensical application of the law. You have made Malaysia a dangerous place. We are the ones who love Malaysia more than you.”
Mariel Fong says she is “utterly disgusted” with the government of Malaysia.
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.
The Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) opposition coalition, which comprises the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), is putting forward a motion in parliament to censure Khalid Abu Bakar for arresting MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is Anwar Ibrahim’s eldest daughter and a PKR vice-president, over a speech made in parliament.
Nurul Izzah (pictured left) said her arrest on Monday (March 16) under the Sedition Act was a blatant abuse of power by the IGP as she had immunity under Article 63(2) of the federal constitution to raise issues in parliament. She added that she held the prime minister responsible for allowing transgressions against parliamentarians.
Her lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah, who is the MP for Subang, accused Khalid Abu Bakar of lying to the public and said he should resign.
Sivarasa Rasiah said the IGP’s arrest and detention of Nurul Izzah was “malicious and illegal”. He said: “Khalid Abu Bakar should resign for his shameless lies to the public to attempt to justify his instructions to his officers to remand Nurul Izzah overnight in the Jinjang lock-up, a remand which was totally unnecessary.”
The PKR has also filed a judicial review in a bid to have the prisons department’s rejection of Anwar’s application to attend the current parliamentary sitting nullified.
Anwar remains the MP for Permatang Pauh until a decision on a petition for a royal pardon, filed by his family, is made.
One of Anwar’s lawyers, N. Surendran, said the court’s decision on the review was needed so that Anwar could attend parliament as soon as possible for the sitting that ends on April 9.
The ten hunger strikers say they have three requests: for the king to convene a pardons board hearing to discuss Anwar’s application for a royal pardon; for the home ministry, the prisons authority, and the attorney-general to allow Anwar to attend parliament; and for Anwar to be moved to the Sungai Buloh hospital for medical treatment.
A core group of five hunger strikers are staging a sit-in this weekend in front of the Sungai Buloh prison where Anwar is being detained and many more demonstrators are expected to gather to show their support. There have been candlelight vigils in front of the jail ever since Anwar was jailed.
The ten gathered outside the prison gates this morning with a banner bearing the images of civil rights defenders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They released pigeons, as a symbol of freedom, to mark the beginning of the hunger strike.
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.
On February 10, the 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.
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.”
There have been a series of arrests over the Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rallies that have been held every Saturday afternoon since Anwar began his jail sentence and several of the detentions have lasted for three days.
The latest person to be arrested was the MP for Batu and PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua. He was arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code and Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA), was held in the Jinjang lock-up overnight, and was released without bail just before 12.30 p.m. yesterday.
The state assemblyman for Semambu in Pahang, Lee Chean Chung, told protesters yesterday that the March 7 demonstration was only the beginning. “It seems like they are totally ignoring our demands. Instead, they are arresting and harassing people. This is not just unprofessional; it is using the state apparatus to suppress people, so we are asking the inspector-general of police to step down, or for him to be fired.”
Khalid Abu Bakar (pictured left) 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.
Phil Robertson, said the police chief was creating an atmosphere of fear with his comments and policing of social media.
Lee Chean Chung (pictured left) was one of more than 15 opposition activists, including two MPs and three state assemblymen, who shaved their heads outside parliament on March 10 in protest at Anwar’s exclusion from the sitting.
There have been 11 arrests since March 7, the assemblyman points out. “We don’t want this to continue. And we want to send a message to the public not to be afraid.”
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.
Protester Sundaram Palani Padiachee, from Melaka, says the Barisan Nasional government has a policy of divide and rule. “We are going backwards instead of forwards. We are losing the solidarity that used to exist among the different communities. We are all Malaysians.”
Malaysians should treasure, and learn from, the racial, religious, and ethnic diversity in the country, Padiachee says.
The IGP, he adds, should be protecting the citizens, not the government. “We are non-violent; we come here just to have a voice … I want to see my children live without fear.”
Another activist, aged 62, who prefers to be referred to only by his first name, William, said that, once the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) comes in on April 1, there will be much more public protest.
He says Malaysians are suffering because of corruption and money laundering. “I am here for the future generation.” The IGP, William says, is arresting politicians just to shut them up. “It is an abuse of power. In a democracy, there should be free speech. It’s time now for us to speak up.
“The rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer. Our salaries are stagnant. They are not keeping pace with price increases. The rich people are the Barisan Nasional people; UMNO and their cronies.”