S. Arutchelvan, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, is a veteran of many demonstrations. But the Bersih 3.0 mobilisation, which he estimates was between 100,000 and 150,000-strong, was the biggest he's been a part of in the country. “It was a huge success” he told Green Left Weekly, “and it terrified the Barisan Nasional [BN] government. “The BN government sees Merdeka Square as its Tahrir Square. They do not want to see – and for the public and the world to see – images of it being occupied by democratic movement. It is their political survival.
At 2.36am, in the early hours of April 19, the student and Occupy Dataran encampment in Kuala Lumpur was violently ambushed by a big group of men. After the ambush, everyone sat down, and victims of violence started to tell stories of what happened. Here is a brief summary of the stories.
The Coalition of Free and Fair Elections (known as Bersih — which means “clean” in Malay) called for a mass sit in on April 28. It did so due to suspicions that the country’s Barisan Nasional (BN) government was about to call a general election before addressing widespread electoral irregularities. The irregularities were confirmed by a review forced on the government by the previous Bersih 2.0 mass rally on July 9 last year.
Lynas, an Australian mining company, is building a rare earth refinery close to the heavily populated area city of Kuantan in Malaysia. The ore is to be shipped from a mine in Western Australia but the highly toxic and radioactive waste which the refinery will produce will not be accepted back by the WA government.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) ,was acquitted on January 9 by the country’s High Court of the second round of politically motivated “sodomy” charges. He was jailed for six years under the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government of Mohamed Mahathir on similar charges. Police dispersed jubilant opposition supporters outside the court using the excuse that three small bombs had exploded nearby.
Since 2008, Seksualiti Merdeka (Independent Sexuality) festival, the LGBTiQ's main vehicle for awareness raising and education made its contribution to Malaysian society in a beautiful, intellectually artistic manner, devoid of vulgarity. It made “straight” heterosexual society realise and appreciate that other forms of sexual love existed and that these could be as genuine as a woman-man love. It had been and still is a struggle for gay men and women to survive even in apparently liberal-minded societies.
A confidential United States cable released by WikiLeaks on July 29 documents the arrest of controversial Malaysian blogger and Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin. Kamaruddin had been outspoken in his criticism of the government. On September 12, 2008, Kamaruddin was arrested at his residence under the Internal Security Act (ISA) ― which allows for detention without trial. Kamaruddin’s arrest came days after Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi threatened to use the ISA to repress those purportedly stoking racial and religious tensions.
Federal Labor MP Anna Burke captured the Gillard government’s increasingly right-wing refugee policy when she said plans to reopen the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea would be “going back to something we said we wouldn’t do, which is the Pacific solution”. Burke told ABC news on August 15 she had raised concerns in caucus about an overseas detention centre as well as the “Malaysia solution”, which faces a legal challenge in the High Court and could also be subject to a parliamentary inquiry.
About 200 people have arrived on boats to claim refugee protection in Australia since the Australian and Malaysian governments signed a deal to “swap” refugees on July 25. The countries agreed to exchange up to 800 refugees in Australia for 4000 refugees registered with the United Nations in Malaysia. The immigration department has refused to look at the new arrivals’ claims for asylum, but is holding them in an isolated compound of the Christmas Island detention centre. A boat that arrived on August 11 carried more than 100 refugees, many of them children.
The PSM 6 — six leading members of the Socialist Party of Malaysia — were released from prison on July 29 after a national and international campaign for their release. Malaysian authorities had held the six democracy activists — Choo Chon Kai, Sarat Babu, M Sarasvathy, M Sukumaran, A Letchumanan and parliamentarian Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj — since July 2. Malaysian police arrested the six in the lead up to a large July 9 protest organised by the “Bersih 2.0” democracy movement. Bersih 2.0 demanded the government commit to free and fair elections.