KUALA LUMPUR: The government’s continued clampdown on public dissent will result in greater backlash from the people, civil society members warned today.

Their warning came in the wake of the government’s recent security dragnet which saw opposition leaders and activists arrested for sedition and for organising rallies.

“Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cannot continue with this position of controlling dissent and continuing a form of crackdown…If [he continues], I think people are going to react much more strongly, and that’s really what we don’t want,” said Tenaganita executive director Irene Fernandez.

“He has learn how to engage in dialogues to see how he can [deal with] the dissent with the people and bring fundamental changes to we are asking for,” she said, citing as examples the alleged corruption, bribery and violence that dominated 2013 general election.

She told a press conference here that the numerous Black 505 rallies were manifestations of Malaysians’ rejection of the allegedly tainted elections, and the home minister must listen to the grouses of the people.

“If the home minster [doesn’t listen], civil society is going to continue to organise itself and resist more in different forms,” she warned.

“Stop this attack on dissent. Accept the dissent, engage in dialogue, and see what are the fundamental changes that need to made so that democracy is practiced and realised.”

Pakatan Rakyat’s series of “Black 505” rallies protesting the results of the May 5 polls have reportedly attracted hundreds of thousands of Malaysians across the country this past month.

But the new home minister responded to the assemblies by urging those unhappy with the electorate system emigrate to countries which do not practice the first-past-the-post system.

Columnists in the Umno-owned daily Utusan Malaysia have similarly demonized the rallies as a “mere political circus” aimed to rile up supporters and cause chaos in the country.

Several Pakatan leaders, including Johor PKR executive secretary R Yunasweran and PKR communications director Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, have been charged for organizing the rallies without giving 10 days’ notice to the police, as per the Peaceful Assembly Act.

Strangulation of democratic space

Meanwhile, opposition-aligned social activists Haris Ibrahim and Adam Adli were detained along with Pakatan leaders Tian Chua and Tamrin Ghafar for allegedly saying at a forum that they would topple the government through force. Adam was also charged with sedition last week.

Party organs were not spared, either – last week, thousands of PAS’s Harakah, PKR’s Suara Keadilan and DAP’s The Rocket were seized by the home ministry in several states, while vendors’ stalls were also raided.

“What we see here is the strangulation of democratic space and political sphere,” observed Lawyers for Liberty legal campaign coordinator Michelle Yesudas, who was also present at the press conference.

She noted the double standard practiced by the government in silencing Adam and other Pakatan leaders and activists, yet taking no action against former Court or Appeal Judge Mohd Noor Abdullah for warning that the Chinese Malaysians must be prepared for a backlash from the Malaysian community for their betrayal in the polls.

“We do not want selective prosecution or selective protection of the people. It all needs to be equal, which is why we have the constitution implemented.”

The civil society members urged for the government to ensure that law enforcement bodies and the judiciary respect human rights; ensure the safety of human rights defenders; and ensure the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly and of association.

The 35 organisations that signed the statement were: Angkatan Warga Aman (Aman); Association of Women Lawyers; All Women’s Action Society (AWAM); Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC); Community Action Network (CAN); Education and Research Association for Consumers (ERA Consumer) Malaysia; Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (PRIMA); Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF); Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT); Lawyers for Liberty (LFL); LLG Cultural Development Centre; Malaysian Youth and Students Democratic Movement (DEMA); Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (MIPAS); Malaysians for Beng Hock; People’s Welfare and Rights Coalition (POWER); Persatuan Alumni PBTUSM Kuala Lumpur and Selangor; Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor; Persatuan Masyarakat dan Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS); Pusat Komas; Rakan Pakatan Rakyat; Respect all Race and Religion of Malaysia (RARE); Suaram; Tamiliar Action Force (TAF); Tenaganita; Women’s Aid Organisation; Youths for Justice and Peace Movement; Kill the Bill (KTB); Himpunan Hijau; Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM); The KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Civil Right Committee; The KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Youth Section; Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM); Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor; Women section of KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall; Women Development Organisation of Malaysia PJ New Town Branch; and Damn the Dams Action Group.

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