The Malaysian activist Maria Chin Abdullah, who is being held under legislation intended to be used against terrorists, is spending her seventh night in detention. The civil rights leader is being held in solitary confinement in a tiny, windowless cell.
She has only a wooden board to sleep on, and has no blanket, and two lights are on in the 15-feet by 8-feet cell 24 hours a day.
Calls for the activist’s release are continuing to grow and crowds have been gathering every night since her arrest for vigils next to Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Vigils are also being held in other cities and towns in Malaysia.
Amnesty International has named Maria Chin a prisoner of conscience
The jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim condemned Maria Chin’s arrest and detention. He said in a statement: “This blatant abuse of SOSMA poses a danger to the freedom and security of all Malaysians.
“If a respected civil society leader such as Maria can be detained under SOSMA, no Malaysian is safe from the same fate.”
Anwar was sentenced to five years in jail on February 10 last year after the federal court upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeal, which found him guilty of sodomy.
Wan Azizah Ismail, who is president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party, or PKR) and the wife of Anwar Ibrahim, speaking at Wednesday night’s vigil in KL.
Maria Chin, who is the chairwoman of the Bersih 2.0 Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, was arrested last Friday, just before last Saturday’s Bersih 5 demonstration. She is being detained under the 2012 Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, which means she can be held for up to 28 days.
As she was arrested under SOSMA, the authorities were able to detain her for two days without legal representation and there was no remand hearing in her case.
Her lawyers have made an application for habeas corpus and the hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday (November 29).
After Maria Chin’s arrest, lawyer Michelle Yesudas tweeted to the Prime Minister, Najib Razak: “SOSMA SHOULD NOT be used for political dissent. You said it was for security in relation to terrorist threats.”
Maria Chin is also being investigated under Section 124C of Malaysia’s Penal Code for allegedly attempting to commit an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy. If convicted, she could be sent to prison for 15 years.
A group of six international NGOs that had observers at the Bersih 5 rally issued a statement calling on the Malaysian authorities to release Maria Chin immediately and drop all charges against the Bersih organisers and activists.
The Bersih 2.0 coalition organised the Bersih 5 demonstration and previous rallies, including the 34-hour Bersih 4 protest last year, which brought 200,000 people out on to the streets on the first day.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has confirmed that Maria Chin is being held in solitary confinement and says that she is being “unjustifiably incarcerated”.
A SUHAKAM delegation visited the Bersih leader on Tuesday (November 22) and the commission’s chairman, Razali Ismail, issued a statement saying that she appeared to be in good health, but that her so-called bed had no mattress.
“She has to wash with cold water,” Razali said. “She indicated that she would like a mattress at the very least to cushion the discomfort of the wooden bed.”
The Bersih leader had also asked for a copy of the Quran and other reading materials, and to be able to see her children and family, Razali said. “SUHAKAM has forwarded her requests to the police.”
Razali added: “Maria Chin Abdullah also indicated to SUHAKAM that the police had interrogated her for three hours, what she termed as soft interrogations; certain that there will be more interrogations.”
SUHAKAM was assured that there was a medical doctor available to Maria Chin at all times, Razali said.
During the visit, he said, SUHAKAM was taken by the police to an unequipped gymnasium, and then inspected Maria Chin’s cell and conducted an unimpeded interview with her.
“SUHAKAM made the point that Maria Chin Abdullah was unjustifiably detained under SOSMA in the company of people who are alleged terrorists, whereby the Standard Operating Procedure applied to an alleged terrorist was similarly applied to her.”
On November 23, about five hundred women took part in a solidarity march from Padang Merbok to the parliament building, which was organised by the group Women 4 Maria.
The women handed over a memorandum to parliamentary representatives calling for Maria Chin’s immediate release, the return of all files and computers confiscated during the raid on Bersih’s office last Friday, and the abolition of SOSMA.
Lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan, who is the president of Malaysia’s National Human Rights Society (HAKAM), said Maria Chin had devoted herself to fighting for women’s rights.
“The government fears us because we are truthful in our cause,” she said. “We have pledged a campaign to free Maria Chin and we will continue to fight for it.
“There is a Maria Chin in all of us. We will never accept what was done to her.”
A campaign for the release of Maria Chin will be launched tomorrow (Friday) in Petaling Jaya.
MPs call for Maria Chin’s release
The state assemblyman for Seri Setia, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who is also the youth chief for the PKR, said: “Bersih has time and again proven itself to be upstanding and principled, therefore Maria’s arrest is not only unethical, it is also a clear abuse of law.”
Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar has been criticised for several of his remarks about Maria Chin’s detention. She could have had a mattress, he said, but didn’t request one.
He said she was being treated the same as other detainees.
Khalid says the nightly solidarity vigils in KL are illegal and the police will crack down on them.
Maria Chin has hypertension and osteoarthritis. Her eldest son, 23-year-old Azumin Yunus, said earlier this week that he feared for his mother’s health.
Accompanied by the MP and lawyer N Surendran and the executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, Eric Paulsen, he lodged a police report about Maria Chin’s detention and treatment.
Speaking outside the Dang Wangi police station, he said: “She seemed very strong willed, but she looked very tired. She’s basically in solitary confinement in a small, confined room. The lights are on the whole time so she can’t tell what time of the day it is. Her sleep is also messed up because of that.
“The place that she sleeps in is just a wooden board and that kind of treatment is extremely unfair and unjust to somebody like her who has done nothing wrong at all.
“We don’t even know when is the next time we are doing to see her or what is happening right now to her.
“Why is it that our mother is branded as a terrorist?”
Maria Chin’s sons at a vigil in KL.
Anwar Ibrahim (pictured left) said: “From my own personal experience, I know how terrible an ordeal Maria faces. During my own detention under the ISA in Batu Cantonment, where I believe Maria is also being detained, I was subjected to sleep deprivation, irregular and disorienting interrogations, and poor food and sanitation. A bright light was left on in my room day and night.”
The ISA is the notorious Internal Security Act that was enacted in 1960 and allowed for detention without trial. When it was finally repealed, it was replaced by SOSMA.
Maria Chin’s husband, Yunus Ali, who died of kidney failure in 2010, was arrested under the ISA in 1987 during the infamous Ops Lalang.
Malaysia’s Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi, must be held accountable for Maria Chin’s detention, Anwar Ibrahim said.
“His continued inaction since the police detained Maria is inexcusable. Is Zahid not the minister responsible? Is he not in charge? Maria must be released immediately.”
Anwar congratulated Bersih “and the brave people of Malaysia” for turning up in massive numbers last weekend, “converting Kuala Lumpur into an ocean of yellow”.
All this was achieved, Anwar said, despite continuous threats and intimidation in the run-up to the rally.
“I am proud of what my fellow Malaysians achieved,” he said. “It was a great display of unity and purpose, expressed in a peaceful and dignified way.”
Bersih 2.0 estimated last Saturday’s turnout to be 120,000. Local media reports put the attendance at 40,000.
The protesters demanded fair elections, a clean government, and Najib’s resignation.
They also called for the strengthening of parliamentary democracy, the right to dissent, and empowerment for the states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Before Bersih 5, there were horrific death threats against Maria Chin and her three sons, the president of Malaysia’s National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) Ambiga Sreenevasan, and Bersih 2.0’s secretariat officer Mandeep Singh, who was also arrested last Friday, but has been released.
A total of 15 activists, civil society leaders, and politicians were arrested during “Ops Bersih” on Friday and Saturday. They included Bersih 2.0 steering committee member Hishamuddin Rais, graphic artist Fahmi Reza, assemblyman Howard Lee Chuan, the PKR vice-president and MP for Batu, Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, and PKR MP Zuraida Kamaruddin.
There is now starting to be international concern about Maria Chin’s detention.
A US State Department spokeswoman, Alicia Edwards, told the news agency Reuters: “We are troubled by the ongoing detention and solitary confinement of Maria Chin Abdullah under national security laws.
The United States was also concerned about the Malaysian authorities’ arrest of a number of other organisers, activists, and politicians ahead of and during the Bersih 5 demonstration, Edwards said.
An online “Free Maria” petition currently has more than 45,000 signatures. The petition also calls for the repeal of SOSMA and states: “When tabling the bill in Parliament in 2011, the government assured and promised Malaysians repeatedly that SOSMA will not be used on the basis of difference in political ideology, but it is evident today that the administration led by Prime Minister Najib Razak is reneging on its promise.
“Such brutal treatment against a civil society leader and a mother shows Najib Razak’s insecurity as Prime Minister. In our view, this is a clear abuse of legislative and executive powers.”
A spokesman for the United Nations Human Rights Office (UNHRO) has called for Maria Chin’s immediate and unconditional release.
The Asia spokesman for UNHRO, Jeremy J. Laurence, told the Malay Mail Online that the use of SOSMA against Maria Chin was very concerning.
“Security legislation should not be used against peaceful demonstrators,” Laurence said.
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