06 May, 2009

Open letter to the Prime Minister

By Param Cumaraswamy (former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges & Lawyers)

Dear Prime Minister,

I draw your attention and express my grave concern on reading media reports on the arrest of Wong Chin Huat the spokesman for Polls Reform Group Bersih last night at his home for investigations under S.4(1) of the Sedition Act. It was also reported that upon arrest he was taken away to an undisclosed location after midnight and his whereabouts kept secret. It was further reported that he was to be produced in court either to be charged or for a remand order today.

If these reports are correct they must be a source of concern to you and all Malaysians. The continued use of the draconian Sedition Act is bad enough. But the manner in which Wong was arrested and taken to an undisclosed location in the middle of the night is akin to what we have seen in repressive States where there is no rule of law. Is Malaysia moving towards such a police State? Arrest and detention prior to investigations for an offence under S.4(1) of the Sedition Act is most unwarranted and most unbecoming.

These events go counter to the promises you made publicly soon after you were appointed Prime Minister on April 3, 2009. You called for the removal of the temporary ban on two newspapers, the release of 13 ISA detainees and the review of the ISA itself. You went on and said “These decisions are timely as we move to enhance the confidence of our citizens in those entrusted with maintaining peace, law and order, while recognizing the need to remain vigilant of the very real security threats we continue to face as a young nation”.

Far from enhancing the confidence of Malaysians in the police their conduct in the arrest and detention of Wong further erodes public confidence in the enforcement agencies in Malaysia. How could Wong’s call on behalf of Bersih to the public to wear black tomorrow as a mark of protest over developments in Perak be seen as a threat to public security? Please do not confuse threats to security of State with security of the government in power.

I urge you not to follow the path of Dr. (now Tun) Mahathir Mohamad who made similar promises when he took office as Prime Minister in 1982 and later systematically turned the nation to a repressive State where, till today, the rule of law is seen on the balance. Please remember that rule of law is not synonymous with rule by law.

Yours sincerely,

Param Cumaraswamy

(former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges & Lawyers)


Meanwhile, the Malaysian Bar called for the immediate release of political activist Wong Chin Huat, who was arrested by the police under the Sedition Act.

Malaysian Bar president Ragunath Kesavan said the arrest of Wong seemingly for the crime of advocating that those who disagreed with the events unfolding in Perak wear black tomorrow, did not augur well for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's promise of openness and respect for the people.

"We reiterate our stand that legislation such as the Sedition Act 1948 is an absolute affront to democracy and urge the government to repeal the act," he said in a statement.

Wong Chin Huat, a spokesman for BERSIH which campaigns for free and fair elections, was picked up by police late Tuesday after a press conference where he advocated a campaign of civil disobedience.

"They arrested Wong under the sedition act and confiscated his laptop computer and handphone," his lawyer Edmond Bon told AFP.

"The police did not specify why he was being held under the act but we were told it related to his press conference earlier," he added.

Wong, along with several other Bersih leaders, had urged the public to wear black on Thursday to mark the sitting of the Perak assembly.

"We urge all Malaysians to wear black on May 7. It will be a peaceful but powerful message of civil disobedience," he said at the press conference.

"We the people are politicians' bosses and no politicians defiant of public opinion can escape punishment at the next poll," he added, calling for fresh elections in Perak to resolve the impasse.

Meanwhile, according to Malaysiakini, Dr Mahathir Mohamad delivered a potential hammer blow to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak today by stating that the elected head of a state government cannot be removed by a sultan.

Instead, the former prime minister said that the elected head of a state government can only be removed by a vote of no-confidence in the legislative assembly.

However, Mahathir was quick to add that the situation in Perak was different.

While he did not explain how it was different, the former premier could have been alluding to the ongoing court case to determine the legitimate menteri besar in Perak.

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