OMCT concerned with continued crackdown on freedom of assembly

Geneva, 12 December 2007 – The International Secretariat of the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) is very much concerned over the continued crackdown on freedom of assembly.

According to information received from SUARAM, a member organisation of the OMCT SOS-Torture network, 23 individuals were arrested by police on 11 December 2007, including Mr. Yap Swee Seng, executive director of SUARAM, in relation to the submission of a memorandum under the coalition BERSIH (a coalition of over 70 civil society groups and political parties asking for free and fair elections in Malaysia) to Parliament on the same morning, and then detained at the Kuala Lumpur Contingent Police Headquarters. The 23 individuals were subsequently released on bail but they have to report to the Jalan Duta Court on 18 December 2007.
The International Secretariat of OMCT is very much concerned about this continued crackdown on freedom of peaceful assembly in Malaysia.
On 10 November 2007, a rally, organised by BERSIH calling for free and fair elections in Malaysia, was violently dispersed[1], teargas and chemical-laced water were used against the demonstrators.
On 25 November 2007, Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), a NGO defending the rights of the Indian minority in Malaysia, organised a rally which was also reportedly violenty repressed. Approximately 136 persons were allegedly arrested, and subsequently released. However, 99 of them are currently being prosecuted either under the Police Act which stipulates the need to have a police permit to gather, or under the Penal Code, for rioting or for participating or joining in an unlawful assembly. 31 persons are also charged with attempting to murder a policeman during the rally. Many of them face prison sentences.
Furthermore, OMCT is concerned over the warnings made by at least two government leaders to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) to prevent public rallies. ISA[2] has been widely criticised both internationally and locally.
OMCT urges the Malaysian government to uphold its commitments, to put an immediate end to the continued cracked on freedom of assembly and wishes to recall that under international standards, force by law enforcement officials may be used only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.
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