Malaysian rights activists warn of further protests

18 Dec 2007
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian activists Tuesday threatened to take to the streets again to call for electoral reform following the government’s crackdown on several mass protests in Kuala Lumpur.

Police have recently detained dozens of people, mostly on illegal assembly charges, but five leaders of an ethnic Indian rights group are being held under a tougher security act that authorises indefinite detention without trial.
They were protesting against alleged discrimination by Muslim Malays who comprise 60 percent of the population and control the government.
On Tuesday, Bersih, an organisation calling for electoral reform which led a rally on November 10 that drew over 30,000 protesters, said the same could happen again.
“People will make their protests known in whatever way they deem fit,” Sivarasa Rasiah, a Bersih committee member, told reporters.
“It can take the form of street demonstrations, it can take the form of different protests but basically what you saw on November 10 is that sort of voice of the people and you could see that again,” he said.
He was among several activists presenting a memorandum to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s office, repeating earlier calls not to extend election commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman’s tenure beyond this year.
“If the PM is insistent on extending the services of someone we consider primarily responsible for the corrupt and unfree and unclean practice of elections in Malaysia, then he is inviting a response from the (people),” Sivarasa said.
Several recent street protests have enraged the government ahead of general elections which Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is expected to call next year.
Five leaders of the ethnic Indian rights group Hindraf were arrested last week under the tough Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for indefinite detention without trial.
Ethnic Indians make up only 8.0 percent of the population and complain they run a distant third to the majority Muslim Malays as well as ethnic Chinese, who comprise 26 percent and dominate business.
Opposition parties and human rights groups condemned the arrests which Abdullah, who is also internal security minister, said were made to preserve national security.
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, urged the government Tuesday to release the five ISA detainees, three of whom had already facing Sedition charges.
“If laws were broken, then the offenders should be charged and properly tried, not detained indefinitely,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.