Paris-Geneva-KualaLumpur, November 5, 2013. The arrest of 19 people, including human rightsdefenders, during a peaceful protest against the demolition of a historicalvillage in Malaysia confirm fears recently expressed by UN member States at theUniversal Periodic Review (UPR) conducted by the UN Human Rights Council, saythe Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programmeof the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT), and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM).
OnOctober 31, 2013, 19 protesters were arrested during a peaceful protest againstthe demolition of Kampung Hakka Mantin historical village in the Malaysianstate of Negeri Sembilan, south-west of Kuala Lumpur. The demolition, ifallowed, would see the forceful eviction of a good number of local residents inorder to make way for a mixed-use development. The protesters said they wereaggressively attacked and manhandled by the police in spite of their efforts atpeaceful negotiation.
Thearrests are coming on the heels of the scrutiny of Malaysia's human rightsrecord by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council as part of its UniversalPeriodic Review. Some of the key concerns expressed by submitting Statesinclude restrictions of freedom of opinion and expression as well as thefreedoms of association and peaceful assembly, interference with land rights ofindigenous peoples and ill-treatment of human rights defenders.
“Theclampdown on peaceful protesters by Malaysian authorities goes against theprovisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, which the Malaysian Governmentenacted to guide itself in the implementation of the constitutional right ofcitizens to assemble peaceably. The rule of law should, as a matter ofpriority, be upheld”, said Karim Lahidji,President of FIDH.
“Itis concerning that the violent repression of this protest comes just days afterthe question of civil society freedoms has been discussed at the UN HumanRights Council. The authorities should nowmove towards in implementing the recommendations made during the UniversalPeriodic Review, in particular, to bring the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 in fullcompliance with international standards and to guarantee fully freedoms ofopinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly”, said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT.
“Malaysiashould waste no time in fulfilling its pledge that the development of civil andpolitical rights in the country would 'keep pace' with progress made oneconomic and social rights”, said Nalini Elumalai,Executive Director of SUARAM.
Therights defenders arrested include SUARAM's Executive Director, Ms. NaliniElumalai, Mr. A. Thevarajan, SUARAM Coordinator, Ms. ParameiswaryElumalai, activist from the Oppressed Peoples’ Movement, as well as sevenresidents of Hakka village, three grass root activists from the Socialist Partyof Malaysia, four State Assembly representatives, and two members ofParliament. They all have been released on police bail on the same day pendingformal charges. The protesters were arrested for “obstructing publicservant[s]” from carrying out their work, pursuant to Article 186 of Malaysia'sPenal Code. The offence carries a penalty of imprisonment of up to threemonths, in addition to a fine of MYR 1,000 (approximately EUR 233).
TheCourt of Appeals issued an order of stay of execution in respect of thedemolition at 2:15pm local time on the same day, after the protesters werearrested.
TheObservatory urges the Malaysian authorities to put an end to any kindof harassment against human rights defenders, to respect and protect theirexercise of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly andexpression and to guarantee in all circumstances their physical andpsychological integrity, in line with the United Nations Declarationon Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights andinternational human rights instruments ratified by Malaysia.