Tuesday 12 July 2011

United Nation says Bersih clampdown undermines democracy

Jul 12, 2011 
KUALA LUMPUR, July 12 — The United Nations said late yesterday that the use of tear gas and water cannons by police to disperse the Bersih rally on Saturday undermined the democratic process.

The global body said Malaysia, which sits on the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC), “unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.”

“UN human rights experts expressed their dismay at the use of tear gas and water cannons by security authorities against peaceful protestors... reportedly leading to injuries and one death,” its human rights high commissioner said in a statement from Geneva.
Malaysia was elected into the UNHRC last year but has faced criticism over preventive detention laws such as the Internal Security Act and the latest rebuke throws a re-election in 2013 in doubt.

Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said that “by declaring the demonstration illegal, sealing off parts of the capital and responding in such a heavy-handed manner against peaceful demonstrators, the government of Malaysia risks undermining the democratic progress in the country.”

However, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has defended the police’s conduct during the rally organised by the electoral reform movement, saying that the police did not engage in any physical contact with Bersih supporters.

Police have also insisted that all those detained on July 9 were well taken care of and properly fed throughout the period of arrest.

Although police said that all 1,700 detained on Saturday were released by the same night, the UN noted that the six PSM members including Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj were not yet released from remand under the Emergency Ordinance.

“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,” La Rue said.

Bersih had claimed a turnout of 50,000 for its street demonstration which went ahead without police permission.

The coalition of 62 NGOs decided to take to the streets despite previously accepting Najib’s offer to move the street rally to a stadium after the government refused to allow the gathering to take place in Stadium Merdeka.

This came after the Yang di-Pertuan Agong called on the government a week ago to execute its duties fairly and for it to meet Bersih and discuss the issue of free and fair elections.

Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin had intervened after a police dragnet that had seen over 100 arrests, the raiding of the Bersih secretariat and confiscation of Bersih-related materials in the space of a week.

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