MALAYSIA: Scores of arrests point to escalating crackdown

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30 Mar 2015
[International Secretariat]

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 said today.

The space for dissent and debate in Malaysia is rapidly shrinking, under the guise of punishing ‘sedition’ or maintaining public order.

Mass detentions of protesters

Today (23 March) at least 79 protesters were arrested at a sit-in protest outside the Customs Department in the Petaling Jaya area of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur. Around 40 riot police were sent to control the public action, and a “scuffle” was reported. Those arrested were among around 100 people protesting against a new Goods and Services Tax to be implemented in the coming weeks.

Colonial-era ‘sedition’ charges

The “sedition crackdown” continued as two human rights lawyers and staff members of the human rights organization Lawyers for Liberty were arrested under the 1948 Sedition Act, a draconian law dating back to Malaysia’s colonial days, originally targeting those who called for Malaysia’s independence.

Michelle Yesudas, legal co-ordinator for the NGO, was arrested for “sedition” today following a post she made on Twitter expressing concerns about her personal safety after receiving threatening tweets.

And Eric Paulsen, the NGO’s executive director, was arrested yesterday, 22 March, for a tweet referring to the implementation of the Syariah Criminal Code (II) (1993) 2015 Enactment, locally referred to as the Kelantan State’s hudud (the criminalization of certain acts, purportedly according to Islamic principles). The two have been released on bail.

The Malaysian authorities are increasingly using the outdated Sedition Act as a politically motivated tool to muzzle critics. At least 23 people have been arrested or have been investigated for sedition in the first quarter of 2015 alone – definitely a spike from last year’s known total of 29. This is a dangerously slippery slope into repression of all dissent.

23 March 2015

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