GENEVA – UN human rights experts* on Monday expressed their dismay at the use of tear gas and water cannons by security authorities against peaceful protestors in Malaysia on Saturday, reportedly leading to injuries and one death, and the arrest of more than 1,600 people at the Bersih 2.0 rally.
“The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including in the form of peaceful protests, is essential for democracy. By declaring the demonstration illegal, sealing off parts of the capital in advance and responding in such a heavy-handed manner against peaceful demonstrators, the Government of Malaysia risks undermining democratic progress in the country,” said Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Tens of thousands of people gathered near the Medeka Stadium on Saturday despite the announcement made by the police that no gathering would be permitted that day on the basis of the Malaysia Police Act, which requires organizers of public gatherings of three or more persons to seek permits beforehand. The protests were called by Bersih, a coalition of more than 60 non-governmental organizations seeking to promote free and fair elections in Malaysia.
“Actions taken by the authorities prior to and during the rally unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association,” said La Rue. “Declaring Bersih illegal based on claims that it is trying to topple the Government or is a risk to national security and public order – in the absence of any credible evidence to substantiate such claims – is also an unnecessary restriction of civil and political rights.”
According to Malaysian police, all of those arrested on Saturday have been released. But the UN experts noted that six leaders from the Socialist Party of Malaysia reportedly remain in detention. These individuals include Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, Sukumaran Munisamy, Letchumanan Aseer Patham, Choo Chon Kai, Sarasvathy Muthu, and Satat Babu Raman.
“We remain deeply concerned about the detention of six individuals since 25 June under the Emergency Ordinance, which allows for detention without trial for up to 60 days,” said El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also reiterated its recommendation, made to the Government of Malaysia following a visit to the country in June 2010, to repeal the Emergency Ordinance and other preventive laws, on the grounds that they significantly hinder fundamental human rights, such as the right to fair trial.**
The independent experts reminded the Government of Malaysia of its obligation to fully respect the rights to peaceful assembly, association, and expression, as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also recalled that as a member of the Human Rights Council, Malaysia has pledged to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.
“Malaysia, as a dynamic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and pluralistic nation, should remain open to legitimate political discourse on democracy, including the expression of dissent,” the experts said. “We urge the Government to allow all individuals to enjoy their human rights, and to address the problem of preventive detention. Likewise, we call upon the Government to ensure that there will not be any punitive measures taken against peaceful demonstrators.”
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