Malaysian Police Threaten Mass Arrests

With the Malaysian electoral reform organization Bersih 2.0 threatening to go ahead with a planned rally Saturday that is expected to draw tens of thousands of people, police say they will arrest 91 leaders of Bersih or two opposing organizations if they show up anywhere near Kuala Lumpur’s Merdeka Stadium.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak earlier gave Bersih, which means “Clean” in the Malay language, permission to go ahead with the rally if it were held in a stadium. The rally originally was postponed earlier this week to a future date until a stadium could be found.

The Bersih steering committee said the rally would go on as scheduled on July 9 and would be held at Merdeka Stadium only to have the management of the stadium, which was erected for Malaysia’s declaration of independence in 1957, say the facility is undergoing renovation although teen heartthrob Justin Bieber drew thousands of fans to a concert there April 21.

The Malaysian cabinet ruled Wednesday that while the rally could be held in a stadium, it couldn’t be held in any of the three major stadiums in Kuala Lumpur, according to the state-owned news service Bernama. Police have also warned university teachers, administrators and students to stay away from the rally.

“I view their statement (to have the rally in the Merdeka Stadium) as a provocation, unwilling to give and take,” Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin told Bernama earlier. “This is just to provoke and cause feelings of hatred.”

The rally has been shaping up as a major confrontation between the government and electoral reformers, with the police declaring Bersih an illegal organization and arresting as many as 200 people and releasing them in the last couple of weeks. Many of them have been arrested for merely wearing yellow tee-shirts, the color that Bersih has adopted as its own for the rally.

The organization takes its Bersih 2.0 designation from an original rally four years ago that drew some 40,000 people and caused chaos on the streets of Kuala Lumpur as police declared the rally illegal and pursued demonstrators with water cannon and tear gas.

One Bersih leader told Asia Sentinel the rally could go ahead without the leaders because it is a bottom-up organization. UMNO leaders say that’s nonsense, and that the rally is a tool of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, made up of the Democratic Action Party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia.

Rally organizers accused Najib of telling the stadium management to find an excuse not to allow the rally to go ahead.

Bersih had been threatening to march through the streets to deliver a 10-point petition to the country‘s Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or ruling sultan, on Saturday. However, the king vetoed that idea earlier this week and the organizers bowed to a government demand to hold the rally in a stadium. According to Wikipedia, the Merdeka Stadium can hold only 30,000 people. Muhyiddin said the rally would attract as many as 300,000.

Police say the event has the potential for major hostility between the opposing parties. An UMNO source told Asia Sentinel earlier that the rally has the potential to kick off a racial confrontation, although the Bersih leaders say the organization is multiracial and not tied to any political parties.

In a public statement, the police said they had placed a restriction order on the 91 individuals, which include the organizers of the Bersih rally, the Malay supremacy organization Perkasa and the United Malays National Organization youth wing’s Patriot rallies. The two Malay organizations have been threatening a confrontation in the streets if the rally goes ahead. The order is designed to stop any of the 91 from being present at several different locations in Kuala Lumpur on July 9.

"This means that anyone (on the list) caught present at these areas will be arrested on sight," city deputy police chief Amar Singh told reporters. At the top of the list are the Bersih 2.0 steering committee members, including former Malaysian Bar President Ambiga Sreenevasan, political science lecturer Wong Chin Huat and women’s rights activist Maria Chin Abdullah.

Also on the list are Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the PAS spiritual advisor, PAS newly-elected deputy-president Mohamad Sabu, DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang and social activist Hishamuddin Rais.

Also warned to stay away are 14 individuals from Perkasa, including its firebrand president Ibrahim Ali and other top leaders such as Ab Rahman Ab Bakar and Syed Hassan Syed Ali. Umno Youth leaders included in the list are Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, secretary Megat Firdouz Megat Junid and information chief Reezal Merican Naina Merican.

Asked why the government is so adamant about stopping a rally that would be a one-time event, a Malay businessman told Asia Sentinel: “They are desperate. I can't understand it but the common view is that they are panicky about losing support if there is a major turnout at this rally. If they give it legal status by allowing the rally, people from all walks will turn up. You can see how much support there is for Bersih by looking at tweets which are trending to the top 10 in the world and on Facebook.”

Lim Kit Siang tweeted that Prime Minister Najib is “at risk of becoming the 1st Kafkaesque PM in Malaysia who does not mean wht he says and does not say wht he means.”