Malaysia blocks Bersih rally websites

A group of Bersih supporters gathered at Dataran Batu Pahat in Johor on Wednesday, in what was billed as a prelude to the rally. A screen grab of a YouTube video shows members of an anti-Bersih group displaying their martial arts prowess by "beating"
A group of Bersih supporters gathered at Dataran Batu Pahat in Johor on Wednesday, in what was billed as a prelude to the rally. PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY
A group of Bersih supporters gathered at Dataran Batu Pahat in Johor on Wednesday, in what was billed as a prelude to the rally. A screen grab of a YouTube video shows members of an anti-Bersih group displaying their martial arts prowess by "beating"
A screen grab of a YouTube video shows members of an anti-Bersih group displaying their martial arts prowess by "beating" one another up with sticks and roof tiles.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

Armed forces chief warns that troops will step in to maintain order if government declares emergency

In a sign of nervousness ahead of Bersih's 34-hour rally starting tomorrow, Malaysia's Internet regulator moved to block sites promoting the "illegal" event, and the armed forces (ATM) warned that it would step in to maintain order if a state of emergency is declared.

Armed forces chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said yesterday that while no ATM personnel have been deployed to monitor the rally, he was concerned that an incident similar to the Aug 17 Bangkok bombing that killed 20 people might happen.

"ATM will intervene in the rally only if the government declares a state of emergency. If the situation is categorised as a threat to public order, we will take over the role of the police in containing the situation," he said.

Just days after Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said there were no plans to block websites or jam signals during the rally, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced yesterday it would do so in the interests of "national stability" .

"MCMC would like to remind the people to be careful in sharing any information in social media or websites, especially information that can contravene Malaysia's laws," it said on its Facebook page.

The move came as Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed warned of "anarchists" who might try to cause trouble and provoke the authorities at the rally.

"I really hope Malaysians will not be fooled into taking part in this illegal rally," Datuk Nur Jazlan said in a statement. "Such provocations are so that the police are blamed for using violence against protesters and immediately will increase hatred for the government," he added.

One of the groups joining the rally is Malay rights group Perkasa, which supports former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister Najib Razak's harshest critic.

Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah said yesterday that rally participants would no longer converge at Dataran Merdeka, or Merdeka Square, but would instead gather around the historic field in consideration of preparations for Merdeka Day celebrations on Monday.

The police have barred participants from entering the square as Bersih did not obtain approval from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall to hold the rally there.

"We will not be going through the places blocked by police as well as not entering Dataran Merdeka, out of respect for the rehearsals and preparation to celebrate Merdeka," she said.

She called MCMC's decision yesterday shocking and against constitutional rights.

"We are going to sue them if they do not withdraw... It is really against the rakyat's right to information. They have no right to block it."

Bersih has spearheaded three mass street rallies since it was formed in 2006 to push for electoral reforms.

The new rally is to protest against what Bersih calls the Prime Minister's attempt to muzzle criticism about his administration and to stifle investigations into claims that he had received state funds in his personal accounts.

On Wednesday, a group of Bersih rally supporters in yellow T-shirts gathered at Dataran Batu Pahat in Johor, in what was billed as a prelude to the rally.

In Penang, a group chanting "Bersih" performed a flash mob at three locations yesterday evening.

On Tuesday, members of an anti- Bersih group showed off their martial arts prowess by breaking roof tiles and wood pieces. Led by an Umno division chief, Datuk Jamal Yunos, the group claimed its supporters were trained to use the sword or parang for self-defence.

The group, whose members are clad in red, had planned to mobilise 30,000 people at the weekend but changed its mind after meeting Kuala Lumpur's police chief yesterday.

"We were briefed on how the police planned to handle the Bersih 4.0 rally. They also advised us not to have our rally on the same day, and we will listen to their advice," Mr Jamal told reporters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Malaysia blocks Bersih rally websites'. Print Edition | Subscribe