KL clamps down on dissent ahead of today's Bersih rally

Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, head of Bersih, was taken to the Petaling Jaya police headquarters yesterday after officers from the police and the Companies Commission raided the group's office.
Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, head of Bersih, was taken to the Petaling Jaya police headquarters yesterday after officers from the police and the Companies Commission raided the group's office.PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY

Head of the electoral reform group among those arrested, questioned by the authorities

The Malaysian authorities have launched a clampdown on dissenters, the move coming on the eve of a mass rally today calling for Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over a financial scandal.

Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, the head of electoral reform group Bersih, which is leading today's protest, was arrested along with a staff member, while two top executives of Malaysiakini news portal were charged in connection with broadcasting videos critical of Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali.

Earlier this year, Tan Sri Apandi had cleared Datuk Seri Najib of corruption linked to US$700 million (S$996 million) found in his personal bank accounts.

Separately, two opposition MPs were questioned by police for Bersih-related activities and for calling for Mr Najib to be ousted.

Officers from the police and the Companies Commission raided Bersih's office yesterday afternoon and took away computers and documents. The two arrests are believed to be over alleged funding by US hedge fund billionaire George Soros.

  • S'poreans advised to take precautions

  • In view of today's rallies, Singaporeans visiting Kuala Lumpur are advised to exercise vigilance and take the necessary precautions for their personal safety. Singaporeans are also advised to monitor local media for updates and developments related to the rallies.

    Those in need of consular assistance can call the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur on +6016-6610-400 (24 hours) or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs duty office (24 hours) on +65-6379-8800/8855.

As Ms Chin and Bersih's communications officer Mandeep Singh were taken away by police, the latter shouted to onlookers and reporters: "Don't bow to intimidation."

Bersih officials insisted that the overnight arrests would not derail today's planned demonstration, the group's fifth in nine years.

The authorities have banned the protest as well as a counter-rally by pro-government Red Shirts, although it is unclear what legal provision is being used.

Bersih first called for Mr Najib to step down at an overnight rally attended by more than 100,000 in August last year after reports broke of the money in Mr Najib's account.

Malaysiakini's editor-in-chief Steven Gan and its chief executive Premesh Chandran were charged under a law prohibiting "obscene, indecent, false, malicious or offensive" content on the Internet.

The videos in question were English and Malay clips on their KiniTV site showing a former Umno official saying in July Tan Sri Apandi was not fit to be Attorney-General.

Rights groups and the opposition have accused the government of trying to quash dissent over the financial scandal, which has been linked to billions of dollars allegedly siphoned from state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

 

Separately, opposition Democratic Action Party lawmakers Anthony Loke and Charles Santiago were hauled up for questioning over their involvement in events criticising the premier. Mr Loke had told an opposition convention last weekend that Mr Najib should go, while Mr Santiago, an MP for Klang, had been active in Bersih-related events. Their colleague Ronnie Liu, a state- level leader in Selangor, was taken in for allegedly instigating riots.

Despite investigations across the globe into 1MDB's dealings, including seizures of disputed assets in the United States and Singapore, Malaysia has yet to prosecute any company or government officials involved.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the bulk of the money was a political donation from the Saudi royal family.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'KL clamps down on dissent ahead of today's Bersih rally'. Print Edition | Subscribe