The planned Kita Lawan (“We fight”) rally went ahead yesterday in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur despite a warning by the country’s police chief that participants would be arrested. It went off peacefully, but activist Fariz Musa was arrested again shortly after the protest ended.
Fariz, who is the chief coordinator of the Jingga 13 non-governmental organisation, was arrested in KL’s Chinatown and is being detained under Section 143 of the Penal Code. He has been remanded in custody for two days.
He had already been arrested at the end of a Kita Lawan rally on February 21, and again on March 10.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) MP for Shah Alam, Khalid Samad, was arrested at his home at about 3.30 a.m. today and was detained in the Jinjang lock-up. He was arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code for alleged unlawful assembly. Remand was denied and the magistrate said Khalid should be released with immediate effect.
The PAS MP for Sepang, Hanipa Maidin, said Khalid’s son informed him that the police had turned up at their family home in five cars, and some of them were brandishing M16 assault rifles.
The Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary general and MP For Bagan, Lim Guan Eng, said in a statement today that the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Khalid Abu Bakar, was commanding “high-handed and arbitrary arrests”, which had given Malaysia “an international black eye in terms of human rights”. An estimated 120 people had been detained or questioned in just over a month since the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for five years for sodomy on February 10, Lim said.
The black eye reference harks back to 1998 when the then IGP Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor punched Anwar when he was in police custody.
Two youths were also arrested yesterday, then were released, then two more undergraduates were arrested in the KLCC park. The communications director for the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Justice Party), Fahmi Fadzil said they had been detained for carrying placards bearing the words Undur Rosmah Undur (Step down Rosmah; Step down). Rosmah is the wife of the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Rasak.
The arrested students were named as Basyiruddin and Hafizol Hakami. They were detained in the Sajang lock-up pending their remand hearing. The magistrate ordered their release.
The Kita Lawan protesters, who have been holding rallies every Saturday afternoon since Anwar was jailed in February, are calling for the opposition leader’s release, the resignation or sacking of the IGP, the resignation of the prime minister, Najib Razak, and reform of the judiciary.
They are also focused on the forthcoming implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is due to come into effect on April 1. Protesters say it is an unfair tax, which should be abandoned as it will cause hardship.
Protesters also point to the financial scandal over the debt-ridden government-owned sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
A rally on March 7 brought 10,000 people out onto the streets.
Yesterday, police were brought out in force to prevent the demonstrators from reaching the KLCC Convention Centre, the venue for Najib’s daughter’s wedding reception. A police blockade was set up and the rally organisers agreed not to try and proceed any further.
Opposition politicians said there was no intention to gatecrash the reception. The MP for Batu,Tian Chua, who is in detention for the second time since the March 7 rally, said in a tweet on Friday: “IGP need not be paranoiac: #KitaLawan has not interest to spoil the million-dollar gala wedding, our rally has always been peaceful.”
He wrote that Malaysia’s First Lady need not worry: “#KitaLawan rally won’t disrupt her wedding dinner. Instead we will show Msian opposition are peaceful & civilized.”
Yesterday, the demonstrators gathered at three points in the city and marched to a rally outside the SOGO department store and on to the KLCC area, where, blocked by police, they staged a sit-in for about 45 minutes.
Some protesters carried bunga manggar, the traditional Malay floral displays, and some were dressed in Baju Melayu, the traditional Malay costume for men: both reminders of the gala reception taking place that evening.
National laureate and activist A. Samad Said (pictured below, centre) read a poem to protesters about the government’s misuse of public money. He said the young must now be ready to lead.
Including Tian Chua and Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is Anwar’s eldest daughter, five MPs have been arrested since the March 7 rally. In addition to Tian Chua and others arrested yesterday, the following people are currently being detained:
- Rafizi Ramli, who is the MP for Pandan in Selangor and secretary-general of the PKR, who has also been arrested twice this month;
- activist Hishamuddin Rais;
- the state assemblyman for Teja in Perak, Chang Lih Kang;
- the assemblyman for Simpang Pulai, also in Perak, Tan Kar Hing; and
- activists Michael Tamil, Gan Zhi Mou, Chee Chu Sang, and Yong Ming Chong.
The deputy president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Mohamad Sabu (better known as Mat Sabu) is reported to have been released after being arrested by a group of armed and masked police as he arrived at a restaurant on the Penang mainland at 12.20 a.m. on Saturday.
Lawyers are arguing that the remands are unnecessary. Syahredzan Johan tweeted yesterday: “Today I helped argue a remand hearing. Police did not exhibit any grounds, in law, that justify remand. Yet Magistrate still granted 3 days.”
Twitter has been inundated with comments about the latest arrests. Syahredzan wrote: “It’s obvious the dragnet over past few days were done to cripple today’s protest. Yet it proceeded without incident and ended peacefully.
“Authorities should realise that modern dissent has no leadership hierarchy. They are organic, arrest 3 or 4, five others will replace.”
Hanipa Maidin tweeted about Khalid Samad’s arrest, “What has happened to you IGP? 3.20am? Are you insane or what?”
The executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, tweeted: “Was @KhalidSamad hiding/fleeing? Why 3:20am arrest at his home? This is highly improper – police could ve called or affect arrest next day.”
Another person tweeted in a similar vein: “What was the need to arrest @KhalidSamad at 3.20am?What did they think was going to happen while he and his family slept? Couldn’t they wait.”
Activist Mandeep Singh, who has himself been detained over the Kita Lawan rallies, tweeted that the IGP must be sacked: “M16 to arrest Khalid Samad? Well, should just bring tank as well. This not a POLICE STATE!”
Lim Guan Eng said Malaysia had the most politicised IGP “since Tan Sri Rahim Nor’s infamous act of beating up Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim that gave Anwar the infamous black eye”. He said the DAP condemned in the strongest terms the arrest of Khalid Samad at 3.20 a.m. in his home, not for committing any offence that harmed or stole from the rakyat (people), “but for exercising a fundamental human right of gathering peacefully to protest against injustice and the Goods and Services Tax”.
He added: “Is it necessary to put on a show of brute naked force by conducting such arrests in the dead of the night, when Khalid would never run away, but would be willing to go to any police station in the daytime as requested?”
No pro-BN demonstrators were arrested in the dead of the night like Khalid after their “illegal” rallies, Lim said. “Again this is a clear case of double-standards and selective arrests by the IGP.”
Had Malaysia descended to new depths where a peaceful gathering was now a more dangerous offence than crimes that caused bodily harm, or financial scandals that caused billions of ringgit in losses, Lim asked .
“Despite the Global Financial Integrity Report estimating that Malaysia lost RM1.4 trillion in illicit funds outflow over a ten-year period from 2003-2013, not a single person responsible had been arrested in the same manner that a MP elected by the people like Khalid suffered in the dead of the night.
“Does the IGP consider a peaceful assembly as a more dangerous offence that threatens national security as compared to corruption that steals our children’s future?”
The IGP today defended the arrests. He said the police would take action against any activities or actions that were deemed to be seditious. He was quoted as saying the police would not “allow the freedom to incite” and could make arrests at any time of the day or night.
The Sedition Act has been strongly criticised, however. The deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said after the arrest of Nurul Izzah under the Act: “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.”
Nurul Izzah said: “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 (BN) coalition. The party has been in power for the past 57 years.
There has also been outrage at the way Hishamuddin Rais was arrested. Witnesses said he was “abducted” and bundled into an unmarked car as a political gathering began on Friday evening.
Nurul Izzah tweeted: “A new low. @IshamRais abducted by 6 men, dragging him by d chest, one hand covering his mouth … #thuggery.”
Tian Chua was arrested yesterday afternoon just after attending a town hall dialogue with Batu residents, the Mayor of KL, Ahmad Phesal Talib, and the Federal Territories Minister, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who is also the MP for Putrajaya and BN secretary-general.
His political secretary, Rozan Azen Mat Rasip, said yesterday: “We were upset that he was grabbed like that just after leaving a public function, and was taken to the Jinjang lock-up, even though he had promised on Friday night that he would go straight to the Dang Wangi police station as soon as the event was finished.
Tian Chua, Mat Sabu, and Rafizi were key leaders for Saturday’s rally, Rozan said. “The police disagree with us about our rallies, but we disagree with them over their lack of professionalism in the way they are handling our people.”
There have been numerous arrests under the Sedition Act since Anwar was jailed. Eric Paulsen and laywer Michelle Yesudas were arrested recently and others targeted include the cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar; the secretary-general of the Malaysian Socialist Party S. Arutchelvan; activist Lawrence Jayaraj; and Penang state executive councillor Afif Bahardin, who is the PKR’s deputy youth chief.
Fariz Musa told Changing Times during yesterday’s rally that he fully expected to be arrested and police had already been looking for him on Friday night. He said that the continued arrests of opposition leaders would be a catalyst; that they would motivate people into protesting. “People will actually become braver about challenging UMNO and the BN, and protesting about the GST, and calling for the release of Anwar Ibrahim.”
Fariz says the authorities are trying to frighten the public, but people, and especially the youth, came to Saturday’s rally despite the IGP saying they would be arrested.
“You arrest and detain us; you want to shut us up, but we still come to the rally and fight for our rights. We will never surrender,” Fariz said.
Opposition leaders, including Anwar’s daughters, are conducting national and international campaigns to garner support for their efforts to get Anwar released.
Article last updated at 15.27 p.m., 29/03/2015.