CIJ condemns government's intimidation against media and electoral reform activist

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemns the arrest and remand of media and electoral reform activist, Wong Chin Huat yesterday over strong calls against the Barisan Nasional’s takeover of the state of Perak and refusal to call for fresh elections there following the political crisis since February.

CIJ views this as an act of intimidation by the police against activist critical of the government. Citizens and interest groups have the right to express their political views and opinions without fear of persecution. Wong is a political scientist who led the press conference on 5 May to call for a 1BlackMalaysia – urging people to wear black on 7 May when the Perak state legislative assembly sits. The slogan turns Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak call for 1Malaysia, which has shown no steps for democratic reforms at all.
According to Wong’s lawyer Lathifah Koya, police arrested Wong at his home on the evening of May 5, 2009, confiscated his computer and took him to the Commercial Crimes Department due to a police report against Wong over the 1BlackMalaysia campaign. Police subsequently remanded Wong for one day but failed to charge him for an offence. Wong is expected to be released on 6 May.
CIJ criticizes the police’s unprofessional behaviour by denying Wong’s access to his lawyers on the night Wong was arrested and refusing to answer queries by lawyers about the nature of the offence allegedly committed. Once again, this demonstrated the police’s inability to remain independent politically.
The government’s relentless effort to sensitize the Perak issue, starting from the seizure of of opposition party publications, followed by the charging of online commentators in March, and now the action against Wong, sends the message to the public that discussion and activism on this issue is strongly forbidden.
The northern Perak state will hold its legislative assembly meeting on May 7, but this has been mired in controversy since the Barisan Nasional ousted in February the elected government of Pakatan Rakyat in the general elections last year.
The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH) said in it statement that Barisan Nasional’s refusal to call for fresh elections; the short-lived media curfew on top of a general lockdown of the city of Ipoh, where the Legislature is seated are the latest developments that show total disregard of Najib on rule of law and constitutional democracy in Malaysia. BERSIH said he also ignores the voters’ wrath on unconstitutional means of power grab,
Najib has clearly failed to restore public confidence in the independence of  state institutions as they continue to become instruments to maintain the power of the ruling government. Conversely, this episode is cast a deep cynicism over Najib’s commitment to reform.
We reiterate our call for state to cease employing intimidation tactics and spreading chilling effect to undermine people’s right to expression.