Candlelight vigil to mourn the loss of basic civil liberties in Malaysia

In view of the way in which the Malaysian authorities clamped down on last Sunday’s peaceful candlelight vigil protests in Malaysia, the Abolish ISA Movement-UK will be organising a protest to voice our dismay, this Sunday the 8th of August 2010, outside the Malaysian High Commission, 45-46 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QT.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman will be giving a talk hosted by the Malaysian High Commissioner from 5.30-7.30pm. We will be there to greet him from 4.45pm. Please join us in a show of solidarity for our fellow citizens back home and in asking the Malaysian authorities what it is exactly about a peaceful candlelight vigil protest that they find so terrifying?  

Malaysian government snuffs out candlelight vigil protests against arbitrary detention

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman arrived in London this week to hold bilateral talks with UK Foreign Minister William Hague, as part of Malaysia’s bid to revamp its image and status abroad, and attract foreign direct investment. Back home in Malaysia however, Anifah’s fellow citizens continue to have their basic civil liberties severely curtailed by the Malaysian government’s iron fisted approach on issues pertaining to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and arbitrary detention.

On Sunday the 1st of August, Malaysian police launched a crackdown on a number of peaceful candle light vigils throughout the country to mark 50 years since the inception of the Internal Security Act (ISA), a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial.

In June this year the Malaysian government pledged to improve its human rights record, enabling it to be re-elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. A few weeks later the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conducted a mission to Malaysia and strongly recommended that the ISA and three other laws that allow for administrative detention should be repealed. Despite these developments, peaceful candlelight vigils were barred from going ahead and 38 people were arrested, including Abolish the ISA Movement chairperson, Syed Ibrahim, and a number of non-governmental organisation workers and human rights activists. Observers claim the police were heavy handed, in one instance chasing civilians into a nearby shopping mall where they arrested 6 women for ‘being rude and telling the police off.’

The ISA was enacted into the law of newly independent Malaysia in 1960. The British introduced temporary measures to fight a communist insurgency, but administrative detention has since been used to detain over 10,000 people. Critics say that its purpose now is to silence critics and clamp down on political opponents, human rights activists, journalists, bloggers and ordinary civilians.

Under the premiership of Najib Tun Razak, the Malaysia Government has been working hard to improve its image abroad with a series of charm offensives, such as high profile meetings with President Obama, President Sarkozy and elsewhere on the international stage. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman has previously met with Hilary Clinton and recently conducted a working visit to the United Nations. This is a far cry from the anti-Western stance of Malaysia’s former Prime Minster Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

But Malaysia’s repressive laws continue to cast a gloomy shadow over the nation. Corruption continues to be endemic with Malaysia’s corruption perception ranking dropping to a record low of 57th place globally, according to Transparency International’s annual 2009 report. With Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) plunging by 81 per cent last year, Malaysia is now ranked sixth among the Southeast Asian nations on FDI inflow, losing out to regional neighbours such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In London last Sunday, Malaysians held a simultaneous solidarity protest outside the Malaysian Tourism Office in Trafalgar Square. One protestor, Eli Wong said, “It’s ridiculous that people in Malaysia are being prevented from exercising their basic civil liberties and freedoms to the extent that they aren’t even allowed to hold candlelight vigils! What on earth is the government so afraid of? We’re here to protest today because we are angry at the awful way the Malaysian government is behaving and we are speaking out on behalf of our fellow citizens back home to say to the Malaysian government that enough is enough! And I hope that when British Foreign Secretary William Hague meets Anifah Aman this week he tells him that this is simply not a civilised or acceptable way to behave!”

The Solicitors International Human Rights Group said “Prime Minister Najib’s attempts to appease the international community by promising meaningful amendments to the ISA and other preventive laws which allow for arbitrary detention without charge lack commitment and must be seriously questioned in light of the recent mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators. This incident shows that amendments cannot be the answer, these laws have no place in a progressive and democratic state and must be repealed immediately”.  

Jeremy Corbyn, the Islington MP and a follower of Malaysian politics for over 20 years, said of the protests: “I know quite a few Malaysians here. They are a very reasonable bunch, who share many of my own concerns – democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. I have previously spoken out in Parliament about my concerns. Initially, I was heartened when Prime Minster Najib promised to review the ISA. But nothing seems to have happened. I see that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has recently urged Malaysia to stop detention without trial. I hope that former Prime Minster Badawi, now chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group will use his influence to persuade the Malaysian Government. Human Rights Watch said recently that Malaysia needs to show a stronger commitment to human rights if it wants to be taken seriously at the Human Rights Council. In 2006 the Malaysian Government made a series of promises while seeking a seat, then broke them all. I hope that this time, it will be different”