Malaysian police raid Bersih office on eve of protest in Kuala Lumpur, two arrested

A member of Bersih delivering a speech at a wet market ahead their demonstration in the capital Kuala Lumpur to demand Najib's resignation in Ipoh on Nov 11, 2016.
A member of Bersih delivering a speech at a wet market ahead their demonstration in the capital Kuala Lumpur to demand Najib's resignation in Ipoh on Nov 11, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah and secretariat officer Mandeep Singh have been arrested and taken to the Dang Wangi police station for questioning following a police raid on the offices of the electoral reforms group on Friday (Nov 18), a day before a demonstration organised by the group calling for Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down.

At 5.15pm, a Bersih 2.0 tweet stated that they were taken out of the Bersih office and were heading to the police station.

Its tweet said: "Police have confiscated 10 laptops, our payroll and bank statements. They will be taking Maria and Mandeep to IPD PJ."

Thousands are expected to march in the Malaysian capital on Saturday (Nov 19) to demand Mr Najib's resignation over his alleged involvement in a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

On its official Twitter account, Bersih said police and officials from the Companies Commission had taken part. Police had asked for some of the group’s assets to be seized, it said.

The police were still in the offices and there was no confirmation of any arrests made.

A police spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Bersih secretariat member Mandeep Singh said on Twitter the raid was conducted in relation to a probe under the Penal Code which covers “any activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy”.

Ms Melissa Sasidaran, a lawyer for Bersih, tweeted that she and other lawyers had been prevented by police from entering the group’s office.

Bersih’s spokesperson and its chairwoman, Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, were not immediately available for comment.

Last year, more than 200,000 attended a similar rally organised by Bersih, which has held several mass protests calling for electoral and institutional reforms since 2007.

Bersih, along with several other groups, is being investigated after reports that it received funds from Open Society Foundations, an organisation linked to business tycoon George Soros.

Earlier this month, pro-government demonstrators protested outside the office of popular news portal Malaysiakini after the media group said it had received funds from OSF.

Mr Najib’s administration has cracked down on the media and civil society in an attempt to silence criticism over his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scandal at 1MDB.

Founded by Mr Najib, who chaired its advisory board, 1MDB is currently the subject of investigations in at least six countries, including Switzerland, Singapore and the United States.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing.