Two Malaysian MPs, Rafizi Ramli and Chua Tian Chang – better known as Tian Chua – have been arrested prior to a major protest rally in Kuala Lumpur today (Saturday). A third activist, Hishamuddin Rais, was “abducted” and bundled into an unmarked car as a political gathering began yesterday evening.
The deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Mohamad Sabu, was also arrested in Pulau Pinang (Penang). “Mat Sabu nabbed by police in ski masks – just wow!” tweeted the executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen.
Rafizi (pictured left), who is the MP for Pandan in Selangor and secretary-general of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), was arrested this afternoon under the Sedition Act over a circular calling on PKR members to attend today’s Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rally.
Tian Chua, who is the MP for Batu, was last night ordered to present himself at the Dang Wangi police station, then was arrested this afternoon. He tweeted: “am arrested at Kg Batu Muda Community Hall after the ‘town hall meeting’.” About twenty police officers came to arrest him, he said.
The MP has been arrested many times. The last time he was detained was on March 20, when he was arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code and Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA). He was held in the Jinjang lock-up overnight.
MP Nurul Izzar Anwar, who is the daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, tweeted: “A new low. @IshamRais abducted by 6 men, dragging him by d chest, one hand covering his mouth … #thuggery.”
Nurul Izzah was herself arrested under the Sedition Act on March 16 over a speech she gave in parliament on behalf of her father, and was detained overnight.
Also on Twitter, the PKR communications director, Fahmi Fadzil, cited a headline in the Malaysian Insider, “‘Abduction’ of activist causes commotion at anti-GST rally”, and asked “why police have to resort to such tactics?”
The executive director of the Institut Rakyat think tank, Yin Shao Loong, went much further, tweeting: “Malaysian activist Hishamuddin Rais’ abduction by plainclothes policemen as he stepped out of a cab was like a fascist dystopia.”
He added: “Disappearing people into police clutches was a hallmark of military dictatorships in South America. Malaysia’s going backwards to the future.”
Tian Chua himself tweeted earlier yesterday: “ … message to world media: Malaysia is in the midst of economic crisis & ruled by a morally bankrupt ruling elite clique.”
He added: “Arrest frenzy & clamp down of activists at the eve of 28 April mass rally. Why is the regime so fearful of peaceful assembly?”
Rafizi Ramli and Tian Chua had both been due to speak at last night’s ceremah (political rally).
The most recent arrests follow the detention in the early hours of Friday of six people, including two assemblymen, after plain-clothes police raided a sit-in next to Merdeka Square that has been going on since last Saturday.
Rafizi was taken to the Dang Wangi police station. His lawyers, Melissa Sasidaran and Michelle Yasudas, asked police to release him on bail and take his statement later as he is ill. Yin Shao Loong tweeted: “Rafizi is suffering from fever and vomiting. His lawyers are requesting that he be released. Now I’m really fuming.”
The lawyers said yesterday evening that the MP was finally going to be taken to hospital, but would nevertheless spend the night in the Jinjang lock-up, and would be brought before a magistrate for a remand hearing tomorrow.
Sasidaran had tweeted earlier: “@rafiziramli here too at Dang Wangi. Statement not taken from the time he was brought to Dang Wangi until now. And he’s ill.”
She added: “He has to be brought to hospital or clinic, but police appear to be stalling.”
Yasudas, who is the legal and campaign coordinator at Lawyers for Liberty, tweeted that she was sad to see that Rafizi was being taken to a police lock-up when his condition was deteriorating.
Yesudas was also arrested recently under the Sedition Act.
Rafizi was also arrested on March 10 under Section 9 (5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 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.
Four MPs have been arrested since a rally on March 7 that brought 10,000 people out onto the streets.
The Kita Lawan secretariat said Rafizi’s arrest was a deliberate attempt by the authorities to stop last night’s ceramah, which was to focus on the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is due to come into effect on April 1. More than 80 people were arrested when police broke up a protest about GST outside the Customs Department in Kelana Jaya on Monday (March 23).
The Kita Lawan activists say their protests will continue despite warnings from the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Khalid Abu Bakar, that those participating in today’s rally will be arrested. “They can catch us, they can beat us, and they can tell lies. But our youths will not for once bow to their cruelty,” the secretariat said.
The IGP said yesterday that organisers of the Kita Lawan gatherings were no longer allowed to hold any assemblies in Kuala Lumpur.
The six people arrested at the Kita Lawan sit-in were Chang Lih Kang, who is the state assemblyman for Teja in Perak, and Tan Kar Hing, the assemblyman for Simpang Pulai, also in Perak. The other activists arrested were Michael Tamil, Gan Zhi Mou, Chee Chu Sang, and Yong Ming Chong. All six have been remanded in custody for four days.
They were arrested under Sections 186 and 188 of the Penal Code.
The Kita Lawan secretariat said: “After being arrested, Mr Chee Chu Sang had to be taken to hospital for treatment after suffering injuries before being taken to the lock-up.” It added: “Evidence at the scene clearly shows that the young people who have been brutalised were assembling peacefully.”
The organisers of the Kita Lawan sit-in say plain-clothes police and city hall officials raided the protest site at about 12.15 a.m. yesterday (Friday). The demonstrators had been told to clear the site by midnight.
The secretariat said the two assemblymen were assaulted before being pushed into police vehicles. “A video recording by a witness who was at the scene clearly shows police used excessive force and acts of violence.”
Witnesses said even 64-year-old activist Siew Yean was assaulted and had to go to hospital for a check-up.
Paulsen, who was recently arrested under the Sedition Act, tweeted yesterday: “Very concerned that the law enforcement personnel who roughed up the peaceful assembly at Dataran were not uniformed or identifiable.”
Tan Kar Hing’s political secretary, Sandrea Ng, said that just after midnight someone tried to tear down a banner calling for the sacking of the IGP. “We asked for his identity and he refused to say anything, then suddenly more people came in, all without uniforms.
“We asked if they were police and they refused to tell us anything. Suddenly more people approached us and started to arrest people. It was very brutal. Those arrested and people around there were beaten up badly.”
Sandrea added: “I think I feel angry more than scared. We are here having this sit-in protest to call for the IPG to be sacked because, all this while, the police have not been professional. They have not been there to protect people’s safety; they have been acting in the interests of the government. The IGP even accused us of assaulting people from the city council.”
The government thinks that it can instil fear among the public so that ordinary people won’t dare to join the coming protests, Sandrea says. “There are very unfair reports about us in the mainstream media; they describe us as a mob, and talk as if we are doing something to hurt the economy.”
The IGP 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 deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said the police chief was creating an atmosphere of fear with his comments and policing of social media.
The Abolish Sedition Act Movement (GHAH), is urging social media users to report the IPG’s account to Twitter “to protect Twitter users from being harassed”.
The Kita Lawan sit-in organisers have meanwhile called on the public to come to Merdeka Square to show solidarity.
There have been protests outside SOGO every Saturday afternoon since the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years for sodomy on February 10.
The demonstrators are calling for Anwar’s release, the resignation or sacking of Khalid Abu Bakar, the resignation of the prime minister, Najib Razak, and the reform of the judiciary.
There have been a series of arrests since the start of the demonstrations in February and the clampdown has been stepped up since the March 7 rally and march.
Other arrests since March 7
After the arrests in Kelana Jaya on Monday, Amnesty International said: “The arrests of scores of protesters as well as two human rights lawyers in separate incidents yesterday and today in Malaysia are the latest troubling signs of an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly.”
Amnesty International’s Malaysia Researcher, Hazel Galang-Folli said: “These latest in a string of recent arrests point to a clear and worrying trend and reveal the very grim reality of the Malaysian authorities’ stance on upholding basic freedoms.
“The space for dissent and debate in Malaysia is rapidly shrinking, under the guise of punishing ‘sedition’ or maintaining public order.”
Article updated at 13.30, 28/03/2015.