JAKARTA — Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today joined the growing chorus of civil society groups and human rights advocates calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Maria Chin Abdullah, Chairperson of Bersih 2.0, a movement for clean government and free and fair elections in Malaysia.
MPs also called for the repeal of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), an anti-terror law which was invoked following Ms. Chin’s arrest on Friday.
“SOSMA is a security law designed to arrest terrorists. There is no justification for its use in this case and it is clearly being abused. Maria Chin Abdullah is not a terrorist; she is a human rights defender and a committed citizen promoting peaceful public activism. She must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and Chairperson of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested the night of Friday, 18 November under Section 124C of the Penal Code, which outlaws “attempts to commit an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy.” On Saturday authorities revealed that she was also being investigated under SOSMA, which allows for her detention without charge for up to 28 days.
Ms. Chin’s arrest came the day before thousands of Malaysians took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur to participate in Bersih 5, a demonstration calling for free and fair elections and an end to corruption in the country.
Parliamentarians expressed concern over the conditions of Ms. Chin’s detention. She has been held in a small cell with no windows, no reading material, no bed or pillow, and two light bulbs. She had also been denied access to a lawyer until Sunday, two days after her arrest.
“The actions against Ms. Chin undermine her fundamental rights, including the right to free expression and the right to legal counsel,” said Mu Sochua, APHR Vice Chair and member of the Cambodian National Assembly. “It is incumbent upon us, as a regional community, to stand in solidarity with the citizens of Malaysia who are simply exercising their rights.”
Parliamentarians urged the Malaysian government to reverse course and avoid trampling the rights to peaceful protest and public dissent.
“All Malaysian citizens must be ensured rights to free assembly and expression. These freedoms form the bedrock of a democratic society, and Malaysia’s leaders should not abandon them simply when they feel their power is threatened,” Mu Sochua said.