Arrests of two activists for a free and fair election, condemned

Harakah English Section
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 (ES) – The arrest of two Bersih activists Feb 15 afternoon by the police were condemned by various quarters and sparks further concern whether the next general election would be “free” in addition to not being “fair”.
Bersih steering committee member Syed Azman Syed Nawawi said the decision of the police to arrest People’s Justice Party (KeADILan) information chief Tian Chua and another Bersih activist some 100 metres from the gates of the National Palace’s was a “disappointment”.
He charged that the police had been “rough and violent” in arresting the two while delegates of Bersih – a coalition of some 70 non-governmental organizations, political parties and trade unions campaigning for a free and fair election – was holding a press conference after they handed a memorandum to a Palace official.
Also present to hand a memorandum to the Palace’s official at the same event were Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) leaders, including its vice president Mohamad Sabu.
Bersih memorandum highlighted the fact that the Election Commission (EC) had failed to meet short term demands made by Bersih namely for indelible ink to be used, for electoral rolls to be cleaned up from “phantom voters”, for postal votes to be abolished and for fair access to the media for all parties.
PAS memorandum meanwhile highlighted about 1,031 postal voters names that were incorporated into the registration roll in the state seat of Belantek in Kedah despite the names not being displayed during verification period.
In a press conference held at the PAS headquarter here, Syed Azman called for the “unconditional” immediate release of the two arrested and warned that this development indicates the climate that the opposition parties would have to face in the next general election.
The EC had fixed Feb 24 for nomination day and March 8 for polling day.
Also present at yesterday’s press conference were Tenaganita director Irene Fernandez, human rights watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) executive director Yap Swee Seng and PKR vice president Sivarasa Rasiah.
Election that is not free and fair
Fernandez who was also supposed to be part of the Bersih delegates at the National Palace expressed disbelief at what had transpired.
“What is wrong with talking to the media,” she asked, postulating that the situation during campaigning period would be even more restrictive if today’s development was taken as an indication.
“I’m very angry with what has happened,” Fernandez who is also PKR Supreme Council member said.
Sivarasa said the fact that 30 people standing together to give a press conference was “attacked” by the police was a “vivid description of the state of democracy” in the country.
Yap said the arrest was a violation of human rights and was done as an “intimidation” to the opposition parties and ordinary citizens with dissenting voices to the ruling coalition.
“I’m concerned that this (intimidation tactic) would persist even during election campaign,” he said.
“If that’s happened, not only we have an unfair election (as long been pointed out by Bersih) but also that it is no longer free,” he said noting that some quarters had pointed out that even though the election was not fair but it is still free. Saadon Aksah/ES