Malaysia: Government must protect and facilitate BERSIH 5 Protest

Malaysia: Government must protect and facilitate BERSIH 5 Protest - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19 urges the Malaysian government to protect the right to protest by facilitating tomorrow’s BERSIH 5 mass demonstrations and stopping all harassment of its organisers.

“Today’s raid on the BERSIH 5 protest organisers’ office and the detention of key civil society leaders nationwide shows the extent to which the government is intent on undermining fundamental human rights in order to stop public criticism,” said ARTICLE 19’s Head of Asia Programme, Oliver Spencer.

“The Malaysian authorities must take urgent action to ensure that the right to protest is protected, respected and facilitated, in full compliance with international human rights standards,” he added.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the ongoing government crackdown against the BERSIH 5 protest movement, a peaceful protest planned for 19 November 2016, and its organisers, Bersih 2.0, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs formed in reaction to reports of government corruption and mismanagement which campaigns for free and fair elections in the country. Bersih 2.0 has faced threats of arrest and claims by senior officials that the BERSIH 5 protests are illegal. On 18 November, the day before the protest was due, Bersih 2.0’s offices were raided by government officials, who allegedly confiscated equipment and took organisers to the police station. Reports are also coming in of other Bersih 2.0 leaders, students and party workers being taken into police stations nationwide in preparation for tomorrow’s rally.

BERSIH 5 participants and organisers have also been subject to intimidation by the informal non-state group known as the ‘Red sShirts’, who have close links with the governing party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Since the announcement of the BERSIH 5 protest on 14 of September 2016, its organisers have reported death threats, harassment and intimidation, including from the Red Shirts. The BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah has received death threats twice. The BERSIH convoy that was held throughout the country in the build up to the forthcoming protest has also been disrupted by the Red Shirts. More than three incidents have ended with physical violence and confrontation where members of the BERSIH convoy were assaulted by members of the Red Shirts.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the Royal Malaysian Police and the Attorney General Chambers of Malaysia – who have an obligation to facilitate the protests – have not taken any steps to either protect Bersih 2.0 organizers or ensure participants in the BERSIH 5 protests will be safe, despite the very real threat of violence posed by Red Shirt counter-demonstrations or potential agent provocateur actions. ARTICLE 19 reminds the Malaysian authorities that international law requires that States actively protect protesters, alongside other people, against any form of threats or violence by those who wish to prevent, disrupt or obstruct protests, including counter-demonstrators. The government should facilitate counter-protests within sight and sound of the original protest, in so far as this is possible, and deploy adequate resources to that effect. They should ensure that potential disorder arising from disagreement or tension between opposing groups is not used to justify the imposition of restrictions on the protest.

ARTICLE 19 is also alarmed by the recent announcement from the Inspector General of Police about plans to use force against BERSIH protesters in order to close down the demonstrations. In the past, the Malaysian government has been condemned for its heavy-handed use of unnecessary and excessive force against protests critical of the government. ARTICLE 19 is also concerned about police “advice” to the public not to attend the protest. Under international human rights standards, States must ensure, in domestic law and in practice, that the overall approach to policing protests is never guided by the anticipation of violence and/or the use of force; rather, it should be guided by the principle that the use of force against protesters by law enforcement is restricted.

ARTICLE 19 will join civil society organisations and the media in monitoring the Malaysian government’s actions during BERSIH 5. We call on the Malaysian authorities to:

  1. Respect, protect and fulfill all rights involved in the protests, in particular the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These are protected both under international human rights law and the Malaysian Federal Constitution; 
  2. Ensure that everyone in Malaysia has the freedom to take part in protests without discrimination on any grounds, including political opinion or affiliation;
  3. Facilitate BERSIH 5 protests by taking reasonable and appropriate measures to enable protests to take place without participants and organisers fearing physical violence or violations of their human rights, while minimising disruption and risks to the safety of members of the public affected by the protest;
  4. Fully respect international human rights standards related to use of force,  in particular the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the standards elaborated by special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (namely the Joint Report of Special Rapporteurs on the proper management of assemblies), as well as the Use of Force: Guidelines for Implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (issued by Amnesty International in August 2015);
  5. Guarantee that organisers and protesters are not subjected to sanctions of any kind on the basis of acts committed by others during protests.

Picture: ©Adam Evans