Malaysian activists and supporters of the Bersih movement (‘Bersih’ is a Bahasa word for clean or reform) have been organizing symbolic protest actions in the last few days to demand the release of Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah.
Maria Chin was arrested last November 18, a day before Bersih was scheduled to hold massive rallies across the country to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing numerous corruption scandals. Bersih succeeded in peacefully mobilizing more than 10,000 people on November 19.
Police arrested Maria Chin for allegedly violating Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA), also known as the anti-terror law. Under section 4(5) of Sosma, a suspect can be detained for up to 28 days without trial. Maria Chin is being investigated for committing activities deemed “detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”
Bersih leaders claimed the arrest was meant to undermine the scheduled protest and sow fear among the population.
This is the fifth time that a Bersih protest was organized in Malaysia. The movement was first launched in 2007 to demand free and fair elections in the country, where the ruling party has been in power since the 1950s. In recent years, the election reform campaign was broadened to include the demand for a clean and transparent government, as well as the protection of civil liberties.
After the peaceful protest last Saturday, many groups demanded the immediate release of Maria Chin by reminding authorities that the Bersih leader is an activist, patriot and democracy-loving citizen who doesn’t deserve to be jailed and treated like a terrorist.
— Bebas Maria (@BebasMaria) November 23, 2016
Some members of the Parliament marched outside federal police headquarters to denounce the harassment and detention of opposition leaders:
— Sumisha Naidu (@SumishaCNA) November 22, 2016
Ousted Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and former Minister Shafie Apdal joined the MPs march from Parliament to Bukit Aman earlier pic.twitter.com/FPs624zKQQ
— Jay Jay Denis (@jayjaydenis) November 22, 2016
Vigils and solidarity actions were held in many parts of Malaysia in support of Maria Chin:
— Jahabar Sadiq (@jsadiq) November 22, 2016
— serene (@serene2910) November 23, 2016
Even former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad joined the Bersih rally and a vigil demanding Maria Chin’s freedom:
— Marina Mahathir (@netraKL) November 22, 2016
Maria Chin’s children penned a letter about the detention of their mother:
Is this the type of country that we Malaysians want to live in, where corruption runs amok, elections are rigged and innocents are placed behind bars?
People like our parents, who are willing to speak up against corruption do not do it for their own sake, but for the sake of the future generations.
This cartoon by Zunar reflects the sentiment of many Bersih supporters about the detention of Maria Chin and the lack of accountability for officials involved in fund anomalies:
— Zunar Cartoonist (@zunarkartunis) November 23, 2016