On July 1, students, activists and press gathered outside the Malaysian Embassy, Bangkok, in response to the Malaysian Government’s arrest of more than a hundred members of the coalition network Bersih 2.0 consisting of various Malaysian human rights organizations campaigning for reforms in the electoral system.
Many of the detainees were arrested simply for wearing a yellow shirt with the Bersih logo or possessing something associated with the network and was planning to attend this year’s Bersih 2.0 rally for clean and fair elections, scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur on July 9. Already on June 25, thirty members of the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) were arrested and are under investigation for an attempt to ‘wage war against Malaysia’s monarch’. If charged under this Section of the Malaysian Penal Code, a person may be imprisoned for life. During the following few days, more than a hundred people were arrested for giving out pamphlets about the rally or wearing a Bersih t-shirt which, according to the Malaysian authorities, is said to “disrupt public order”.
The action taken by the Malaysian authorities to suppress the planned Bersih 2.0 rally is a severe setback for freedom of expression and democracy in Malaysia. Charles Tou, student at Thammasat University and one of the organizers of the Bangkok solidarity protest says; “to be democratic, a government must allow for change, must allow for improvements”.
With many signs such as “Free Bersih” and a PSM flag, the protestors marched to the front of the embassy shouting “Bersih”. A memorandum was read in both Thai and English condemning the arrest of the Bersih activists and calling for their immediate release. A number of copies were then distributed to the press and many of the Embassy staff.
The organizers of the protest were invited inside the gates to speak with Mr. Nazarudin Ja’afar, First Secretary of the Embassy. He promised that the memorandum would be passed on to Prime Minister Mr. Najib Razak, but that he could not promise any reaction on the part of the Government. However, if the situation is not changed Mr. Ja’afar said the activists are welcome back to the embassy to protest as it is their right to express their opinion.
The protestors will follow up the situation in Malaysia and are considering arranging a small protest in Bangkok on July 9 to highlight the Bersih 2.0 rally scheduled to take place the same day in Kuala Lumpur.