Malaysian police free 471 reform protesters
AFP & AP
KUALA LUMPUR MALAYSIAN police on Sunday said all 471 people arrested during a demonstration for free and fair elections, including a senior opposition lawmaker, have been freed.
“We have released all of them,” national police spokesman Ramli Yoosuf said, adding that the MP had been identified as Tian Chua from Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan party.
Security forces would decide later whether to file charges against the demonstrators, he said.
Police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water on Saturday at thousands of protesters calling for clean elections after some breached into the Independence Square which had been declared a banned area for demonstrators.
Police estimated at least 30,000 people participated in the rally, while independent Malaysian media put the number at more than twice that.
The Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia condemned the “arrest of two journalists” who were covering the protests and violence against at least one cameraman who was allegedly punched by police as his equipment was seized.
“We urge Prime Minister Najib Razak to conduct a thorough and swift investigation, and charge those responsible for these violent acts,” it said.
The street protest — a rare event in Malaysia — was held in the capital Kuala Lumpur by a coalition known as Bersih, which means clean in Malay language.
The rally was held to pressure Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition — which has been in power for 55 years — to overhaul what the opposition and civil groups call biased electoral policies before the next polls are held.
Elections do not need to be held until mid-2013, but speculation had previously been rife that Najib may dissolve parliament next month and seek a new mandate in June.
However, the protests — the second mass rally in 10 months — could rattle Najib’s confidence and prompt him to delay calling polls, especially since the last election delivered the biggest opposition gains in parliament ever.
“The rally is a way for many Malaysians to show that they are no longer suppressed. It has whipped up anti-government sentiment, and this could encourage Najib to call for later elections,” said Ooi Kee Beng of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
The country’s largest English newspaper, The Star, said in an opinion piece on Sunday that the more likely time for polls would be in the first week of September.
Malaysia’s Bar Council, which deployed 80 monitors during the rally, said police fired tear gas directly at the crowd in a way that appeared to be designed to attack them, rather than letting them disperse quickly.
It said its teams also witnessed several acts of police brutality, such as assault of arrested persons.