Malaysian human rights group SUARAM says that several members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) and other human rights activists were subjected to arbitrary arrests simply for attending a peaceful candlelight vigil in the city of Johor Baru on January 10.
The vigil was called to protest the second-time arrest on remand of PSM Central Committee member Khairul Nizam (also known as Aduka Taruna).
Khairul is being investigated for possible offences under the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act as a result of Facebook postings criticising the earlier arrest of another PSM member, Khalid Ismath.
Charged on three counts of sedition against the Sultan of Johor and another 11 counts under the Communications and Multimedia Act, Amnesty International subsequently declared Khalid a prisoner of conscience. He was released on bail on October 29.
On November 23, former PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan was charged with sedition for posting on Facebook his party's defence of jailed former parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. The PSM statement said the conviction of Anwar was politically influenced.
Before charges had been laid, Arutchelvan had been arrested and detained on remand for several days. He was granted bail after charges were laid.
The sedition and other charges against the two PSM activists were serious affronts to civil liberties, but they have now been compounded by arrests of people protesting against these charges. And the police are not content with arresting people on remand for investigation just once. Khairul, for instance, was arrested on December 28 and again on January 8. He was released for a second time when a magistrate refused the police remand application.
The police responded by arresting five people for attending the peaceful solidarity vigil for Khairul, four of whom are PSM members. The police are believed to be trying to arrest others who attended.
In a January 11 statement, Sevan Doraisamy, the Executive Director of SUARAM said: “As the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 is in general a non-arrestable offence with power to arrest only in selected circumstances, the fact that some of them were arrested and detained overnight under the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 was a clear abuse of power by the authorities.
“Based on this fact, the arrests and detention of those attending the candlelight vigil for Khairul Nizam can only be interpreted as an unconscionable attempt to intimidate and punish human rights defenders! Such an attempt to normalise such intimidation and abuse of power must be rejected and condemned!”
Arutchelvan told Green Left Weekly: “These are all part of an ongoing misuse of the sedition and other laws — and of detention on remand — to intimidate and harass political dissidents in Malaysia.
“But we are not going to accept this. We will fight them in the courts and with peaceful public protests. We will not be silenced!”