An independent United Nations human rights expert today said Malaysia’s “heavy-handed” control of a demonstration on Saturday risks democracy there, and expressed concern with reports of detention of political leaders.
Media reports indicated Malaysian authorities used tear gas and water cannons against protesters in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, on Saturday, reportedly leading to one death, several injuries and the arrest of more than 1,600 people.
“The right to freedom of opinion and expression, including in the form of peaceful protests, is essential for democracy,” said Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
“By declaring the demonstration illegal, sealing off parts of the capital in advance and responding in such a heavy-handed manner against peaceful demonstrators, the Government of Malaysia risks undermining democratic progress in the country,” he said in a news release.
“Actions taken by the authorities prior to and during the rally unduly restricted the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.”
Declaring the assembly illegal “based on claims that it is trying to topple the Government or is a risk to national security and public order – in the absence of any credible evidence to substantiate such claims – is also an unnecessary restriction of civil and political rights,” he said.
For his part, El Hadji Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said: “We remain deeply concerned about the detention of six individuals since 25 June under the Emergency Ordinance, which allows for detention without trial for up to 60 days.”
The Working Group also reiterated its recommendation, made to the Government of Malaysia following a visit to the country in June 2010, to repeal the Emergency Ordinance and other preventive laws, on the grounds that they significantly hinder fundamental human rights, such as the right to fair trial.
The rights experts reminded the Government of its obligation to fully respect the rights to peaceful assembly, association, and expression, as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They also recalled that as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia has pledged to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Mr. La Rue and Mr. Sow are independent, non-paid experts reporting to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.