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'Charging Maria Chin is clearly politically motivated'

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The move to charge Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah for organising the Bersih 4 rally is clearly nothing but politically motivated, a human rights NGO opines.

Amnesty International said the move highlights a wider, vindictive push to silence others who take to the streets to voice their opposition.

“These vindictive charges against Maria are clearly politically-motivated and should be dropped immediately.

“The authorities in Malaysia are trying to punish those who voice their opposition peacefully and create an overall climate of fear to deter other activists from doing the same,” Amnesty International’s South East Asia campaigns director Josef Benedict said.

“Instead of listening to the people who demonstrated at the Bersih 4 rally, the Malaysian government is doing everything in its power to increase repression further.”

Police are expected to charge Maria under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) in a Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur today.

Apart from Maria, Sabah Bersih organiser Jannie Lasimbang was charged under the PAA on Oct 21 for organising the event in Kota Kinabalu.

If convicted, Maria and Lasimbang could each face a maximum fine of up to RM10,000.

Detractors gave it a racial twist

The 34-hour rally held in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 29-30 saw tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to demand free and fair elections and for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to resign.

However, Bersih 4 took a racial twist when detractors zoomed in on the large presence of Chinese Malaysians.

This then led to the Sept 16 red shirts rally to uphold the dignity of the Malays.

Amnesty International in its statement released today also pointed out how the charges against Maria and Lasimbang came in the context of a widening crackdown on freedom of expression in Malaysia over the past two years.

“The authorities have, in particular, made use of the Sedition Act, a draconian colonial-era law that gives the government sweeping powers to silence dissent,” Benedict said.

The latest case saw PKR parliamentarian R Sivarasa ( photo ) being charged with sedition for allegedly criticising the judiciary at the #KitaLawan rally held early this year.

The rally was called to demand the release of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is serving a five-year jail term after being convicted of sodomy in February.

“The government’s relentless effort to silence anyone who voices critical opinions of the state is incredibly alarming, and shows no sign of letting up. This must end immediately – space for public debate in Malaysia is under serious threat,” Benedict said.

Najib had in 2012 pledged to repeal the Sedition Act 1948, but made a U-turn at the Umno general assembly in December last year and announced that the law would instead be fortified.

A number of people, mostly opposition leaders and academicians, have been arrested and charged with sedition.

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