By Wong Choon Mei
Human rights groups and civil society leaders have condemned the latest police arrests of two Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers for wearing black and taking part in a candlelight vigil to protest Prime Minister Najib Razak’s refusal to hold free and fair election in Perak state.
“These are not large groups and they doing internationally accepted solidarity activities like lighting candles and peaceful gathering. They are not throwing stones or rioting. What is the problem?,” said Ramon Navaratnam, past president of Transparency International.
On Tuesday night, Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching and Teratai assemblyman Jenice Lee were arrested along with nine other party workers.
Wearing black, the group of 11 were holding a vigil outside the office of another Pakatan leader, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok. They were charged with illegal assembly and released only on Wednesday morning.
“We will only end the vigils when Najib ends the political crisis. If you deny our right to light up candles, it is like you are denying our right to eat KFC,” said Jenice.
“Most of the people who came last night did not wear black but only the ones who wore black got arrested. So how can you justify this? So, what does this mean? The law itself is not just? No, the law is there to protect us and not to limit or deny our freedom.”
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Neither she nor her colleague Nie Ching are cowed by the police intimidation. Another vigil has been planned for Wednesday night at Nie Ching’s service centre in Sri Kembangan, while Thursday’s will be at Jenice’s office in Ampang.
“Last night’s arrests serve only to remind the public of how obtuse the Royal Malaysian Police has become. It was a low-key candlelight vigil. And yet in a remarkable show of force, a nearly 100-strong police team swooped on the gathering,” said DAP information chief Tony Pua.
“While DAP fully appreciates the effort by the police to grant some of the party’s low profile activities instantaneous nationwide publicity, we strongly condemn police intimidation and oppression.”
More than 120 activists, including lawmakers, have been arrested since the start of this month for either wearing black to denote the oppression taking place in northwestern Perak state, or for attending the notorious May 7 Perak assembly sitting, or for highlighting the birthday of controversially murdered Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.
All three events ultimately lead to Najib, Malaysia’s newly appointed premier.
He had hatched the unpopular coup d’etat that toppled the Pakatan government in Perak, tacitly authorized his Umno-BN coalition to use brute force to run out assembly Speaker V Sivakumar, while Altantuya is alleged to have been his one-time mistress.
Wearing black and lighting candles is now an invitation for police arrest in Malaysia after the Coalition for Clean and Fair Election criticized him for hyprocrisy and parodied his 1Malaysia slogan as 1BlackMalaysia.
“Clamping down of freedom of expression is not the right solution. It will only erode the government’s credibility while at the same supporting the perception that there has indeed been wrongdoing which the government is desperate to stifle out at all costs,” said Ramon.