Lawyers challenge Bersih chief Maria Chin Abdullah's detention

Opposition lawmakers hold march to seek release; BN leaders defend use of security Act

Maria Chin Abdullah, chairperson of the coalition of Malaysian NGOs and activist groups known as Bersih, addressing journalists in Kuala Lumpur.
Maria Chin Abdullah, chairperson of the coalition of Malaysian NGOs and activist groups known as Bersih, addressing journalists in Kuala Lumpur.PHOTO: AFP

Lawyers for detained Bersih reformist leader Maria Chin Abdullah yesterday sought her immediate release, challenging her detention under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) with a habeas corpus application filed with the High Court.

Ms Chin, 60, was detained by police last Friday, on the eve of last Saturday's Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur which drew more than 15,000 protesters demanding that Prime Minister Najib Razak step down amid graft allegations.

"It is very clear that Maria has been singled out for this ridiculous and horrendous treatment," said Ms Ambiga Sreenevasan, Ms Chin's lawyer and former Bersih chief.

"We have also stated that Sosma was wrongly used against her. And that the whole method in which she was taken in was unlawful," Ms Sreenevasan, who is also Human Rights Society chairman, told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur High Court lobby, according to the Malaysiakini news website.

Ms Chin's three sons were in court yesterday. Mr Azumin Mohamad Yunus, 23, told a press conference that his mother's detention was unjust and he hoped that she would be given access to her medication.

He said his mother, who is being held at an undisclosed location in solitary confinement, suffered from high blood pressure and a cholesterol problem. "I saw her on Sunday and she was visibly tired," he said.

Opposition lawmakers marched from Parliament yesterday to police headquarters calling for Sosma to be repealed and for Ms Chin's release.

According to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, in 2012 the de facto law minister Nazri Aziz promised in Parliament that nobody would be arrested or detained under Sosma solely for their political beliefs or activities.

"That written promise is ignored by the very government which promulgated this law," Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters yesterday.

Small candlelight vigils have been held on Monday night across the country to call for Ms Chin's release, with the crowd at Kuala Lumpur's Independence Square joined by Dr Mahathir and his wife.

"Free Maria, free Maria," he chanted with several hundred people in attendance.

Along with Ms Chin, police had also detained other Bersih figures, opposition leaders and student activists in the pre-rally swoop, including the leader of the rival Red Shirts movement.

Umno division leader Jamal Yunos was released yesterday after a four-day remand.

Mr Jamal said he would launch a campaign against the opposition-led Selangor state government.

"I would like to announce the launch of Bersih 7 to save Selangor… I would like to state that the Selangor people must be saved from a government that deceives it," he said upon his release.

Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang called Ms Maria's detention "most deplorable, as it is clearly vicious, vengeful and vindictive", but leaders of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional said the move was necessary to maintain public order.

Umno Supreme Council member Puad Zarkashi said the use of Sosma was lawful, adding that it was created "to stop the threats created by a big group of people in and outside of Malaysia, with the purpose of causing planned violence".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Lawyers challenge Bersih chief's detention'. Subscribe