The size on the rally was disputed. Source: YouTube
In Malaysia, thousands of protesters taken to the streets of Kuala Lumpur against the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is fighting corruption allegations linked to the troubled state 1MDB fund.
Spokesperson Wong Chin Huat for the event organiser, Bersih, said the subsequent security sweep and chairwoman Maria Chin’s arrest without trial under the Security Offences Act were vindictive and aimed at silencing dissent.
“The crackdown shows that Najib is feeling insecure. It is a sign of panic,” Wong told the media. “But the people have sent a clear message. They want reforms and they want Najib to step down.”
Police raided Bersih’s office on Friday and took Chin in for questioning into “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. Chin can be held without trial for 28 days.
Bersih claimed Chin was being held in solitary confinement.
The 1MDB affair has reduced investor interest in Malaysia for more than a year. Growth has increased in the third quarter but foreign investors have grown concerned by the weakness of the ringgit, which has been falling since Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory.
The protest was peaceful but 15 activists and opposition politicians have been arrested on charges condemned as “manufactured” by campaigners.
The Malaysian central bank this month discouraged offshore trading of the ringgit in what it described as an effort to “ensure orderliness and stability”.
The charges included rioting and undermining parliamentary democracy, while Najib has dismissed the Bersih movement as a “tool of the opposition” and the authorities claimed the numbers protesting were lower than at last year’s rally, suggesting citizens had “rejected the hypocrisy of Bersih”.
Police said 15,500 protesters took part but Bersih estimated the crowd at 120,000.
The protest was a mainly festive event with protesters clad in yellow T-shirts waving witty signs, including caricatures of Najib.
Protesters reportedly applauded the police and complied with their instructions.
Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, who observed Saturday’s event, said: “There have been 15 arrests and we are expecting many more in what will be an ongoing crackdown. These charges are not based in fact. They are using these charges to make them pay for holding a rally which challenged the government.” He said it was indicative of a broader slide into “dictatorial tactics”.
Two opposition MPs, Tian Chua and Zuraida Kamaruddin of the People’s Justice Party, were arrested, as well as artist Fahmi Reza, whose depiction of Najib in clown makeup went viral earlier this year.