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Friday, June 8, 2012
UN urges Malaysia to protect poll activists
June 8, 2012
Special rapporteur on human rights says there are disturbing acts of harassment against a prominent woman human rights defender.
Kuala Lumpur: UN human rights experts have denounced what they called “disturbing” harassment of Malaysian activists who are pushing for election reform and urged the government to protect them.
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0) staged a rally by tens of thousands in Kuala Lumpur on April 28 that ended with protesters clashing with police, who arrested more than 500 people.
Since then, leaders of the coalition, which groups dozens of non-governmental organisations, have complained of an official campaign to “demonise” them and of tacit harassment by authorities of coalition members.
The coalition’s leader S Ambiga, in particular, has been targeted by protests outside her home and has reported receiving threats and being called a traitor.
“I am seriously concerned by these disturbing acts of harassment against a prominent woman human rights defender who is being targeted because of her legitimate human rights activities in Malaysia,” UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said in a statement released Thursday.
Maina Kiai, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of opinion, urged Malaysia to withdraw a civil suit filed against group leaders over damage caused during the April rally.
“Holding assembly organisers liable for the alleged unlawful conduct of others is not compatible with standards governing the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and has a detrimental effect on the exercise of this right,” Kiai said in the statement.
Besides the civil suit and other actions, various current or former officials have publicly attacked the coalition — known in Malaysia as “Bersih”, for the Malay word for “clean” — as radicals seeking to overthrow the government.
The movement seeks major reform of an election system that critics say is biased toward the Malay-dominated ruling coalition, which has governed the multi-racial nation since independence in 1957.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has sought to portray himself as a reformer by relaxing decades-old security laws and promising a more open political environment.
But the opposition and other critics have called the campaign a cynical ploy for votes ahead of elections due by early next year, and have pointed to the anti-Bersih rhetoric as proof.
The opposition made unprecedented gains during the last polls in 2008.
Its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was charged last month with criminal charges related to the rally, and a conviction could potentially bar him from standing in elections.