Malaysia: stop and investigate attacks on Bersih leaders immediately

The Malaysian government must act to stop and redress the ongoing harassment, and death threats against the organizers of the Bersih 5.0 protest rally, scheduled for 19 November 2016, said the ICJ today.

The ICJ is calling on the authorities to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into unlawful acts of intimidation against the organizers with a view to identifying and bringing to account those responsible.

The Bersih (or Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil) is a coalition formed in 2006 by Malaysian non-governmental organizations to call for free, clean and fair elections.

“The Malaysian government has the obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director. “These rights are not only guaranteed under the Malaysian Constitution, but also under international human rights law.”

The ICJ recently received reports that Bersih leaders Maria Chin Abdullah, Mandeep Singh, and former Chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan received death threats from unknown individuals.

Family members of Maria Chin Abdullah also received similar threats.

On 29 October 2016, police arrested Maria Chin Abdullah for distributing flyers promoting the forthcoming public assembly.

She was investigated on suspicion of having violated Section 11 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, which requires every publication printed or published within Malaysia to bear the name and address of the printer and publisher. Maria Chin Abdullah was subsequently released.

On 1 October 2016, men wearing the customary red shirts of ‘anti-Bersih’ groups and riding motorbikes tailed the convoy in Perak, kicked the cars and punched the vehicles’ side mirrors, while on 8 October 2016, unknown persons smashed the windows and slashed the tires of cars participating in a Bersih convoy in Sabah state.

Last week, police authorities launched investigations under Section 124C of the Penal Code against Bersih and other Malaysian NGOs that are alleged to have received foreign funding. Section 124C penalizes persons who are found to “attempt to commit activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”

“Section 124C is impermissibly vague and ambiguous, and allows authorities to engage in arbitrary prosecution, conviction, and punishment of people who are exercising their right to freedom of speech and assembly,” Zarifi said. “These claims against Bersih seem to be the latest effort by the Malaysian government, which is facing allegations of massive corruption, to repress political opposition.”


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s Senior International Legal Adviser, t: +66 840923575 ; e: emerlynne.gil(a)


Over the years, Bersih has been organizing peaceful assemblies attended by thousands of Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country.

Last year, monitors from the ICJ observed Bersih 4.0 and reported that it had been a peaceful assembly, in exercise of the right to freedom of assembly and that the organizers took careful measures to keep it orderly and free from violence. The ICJ will again be sending observers to this year’s Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur.

Under Article 10(1)(b) of the Malaysian Constitution, “all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms.” Furthermore, the right to peaceful assembly is also guaranteed under several international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In his 2012 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association emphasized that States “have a positive obligation to actively protect peaceful assemblies”. This State obligation includes “protection of participants of peaceful assemblies from individuals or groups of individuals, including agents provocateurs and counter-demonstrators who aim at disrupting or dispersing such assemblies.”

With regard to the use of Section 124C of the Penal Code to commence investigations against Bersih and other non-governmental organizations, the ICJ has emphasized that the ambiguity and vagueness of this provision makes it inconsistent with the principle of legality, a basic tenet of law. The principle of legality in the criminal law context requires that any offense must be established in law and defined precisely and unambiguously so as to enable individuals to know what acts will make them criminally liable.

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