Despite rain, around 10,000 Malaysians joined a rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur to call for the release of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak. The protesters, who used the Twitter hashtag #KitaLawan (We Fight), gathered on the streets before making their way to the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC). With minimal police presence, the rally ended peacefully on Saturday evening.
Anwar Ibrahim is serving a five-year sentence after Malaysia's high court affirmed his sodomy conviction last month. The opposition leader, who was the country's deputy minister before falling out with other officials in the ruling coalition, has claimed that the sodomy charge was politically-motivated. Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country.
Nurul Izzah Anwar, a second-term MP and the opposition leader's eldest daughter, discussed the public gathering with Global Voices (GV).
GV: What did the rally achieve?
Nurul Izzah: The rally is a manifestation of the undercurrent of support for reforms and change in this country. In particular the change of the ruling elite. The substantial number and spectrum of those who attended showcase the spread of rights’ awareness amongst Malaysians.
GV: Do you think the rally will have had a sustainable impact on Malaysian society?
Nurul Izzah: Yes. Society has grown more understanding of the various forces accorded to them to display their viewpoints. Over the years, success has been achieved even in the police handling of peaceful demonstrations.
High handedness by the authorities; linked with mainstream media tarnishing of demonstrators won't work as easily now. We proved today, with proper police professionalism and care in managing traffic and handling peaceful rallies – everyone wins.
GV: What is the next course of action?
Nurul Izzah: We plan another rally May 1, but subject to engagement and further discussions with all stakeholders. We want all agents of reform who have put their trust in Pakatan Rakyat [political party], albeit with varying results, to partake in the process. Specifically, we plan a rakyat-led (people) petition to seek pardon for DSAI (Anwar Ibrahim) on the basis that a miscarriage of justice has taken place.
We will also stage a protest following the King's speech in parliament next week.
GV: It seems the movement today reflects a wide concern among Malaysians, and not just advocating the freedom of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. What are your thoughts on this?
Nurul Izzah: That would be exactly my point; our point. Any regime that imprisons it's opposition leader does not practice democracy. Anwar remains a messenger, bringing the message of reforms. Malaysians realize the weaknesses and failures of the regime and resonate with the call by the messenger.
— Nurul Izzah (@n_izzah) March 7, 2015
Malaysians took to social media to show their support and rally with their political and community leaders.
— nicholaslaw (@yikyang) March 7, 2015
I may not be marching but I support the rights of people to march. Freedom of expression matters.#KitaLawan
— Erna Mahyuni (@ernamh) March 7, 2015
Marching to SOGO pic.twitter.com/DwM61CsK3h
— Kita Lawan (@KitaLawan_my) March 7, 2015
Meanwhile Malaysians in Australia and England stood in solidarity with the movement.
— Praveen Nagappan (@icekacangpanas) March 7, 2015
Rise, Rise – Citizens Rise!
— Jin Shern (James) (@JamesJSChai) March 7, 2015
Not everyone agreed with the rally — some condemned the demonstrators — while others have asked the authorities to punish the pro-democracy movement.
— Tan Keng Liang (@tankengliang) March 7, 2015
As head of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, many argue that Malaysia has a special responsibility to demonstrate t is capable of promoting rights-based social policies in the region. This includes upholding the people's right to peaceful assembly and respecting the views of the opposition.