20 August 2021
Responding to the mass arrest of 31 participants of a COVID-19 memorial vigil last night in Dataran Merdeka, Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia said:
“The heavy-handed arrests of participants in last night’s vigil were the latest in a series of abuses of power by the authorities. In recent months, we have seen an alarming crackdown on those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including investigations into activists, human rights defenders and opposition members of parliament.
It is disingenuous of the police to claim the vigil participants were not arrested but merely brought in for ‘documentation’ when videos of them being forcibly dragged onto waiting police trucks clearly show otherwise. The police also denied those detained immediate access to legal counsel, before permitting only two lawyers to enter the police station where the vigil participants were held. This is a violation of a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 5 of the Federal Constitution and a basic principle of international human rights law.
The COVID-19 pandemic must not be abused as an excuse to suppress peaceful gatherings, especially when public health restrictions are enforced inconsistently compared with other movements and activities Malaysians are now allowed to engage in. Additionally, by aggressively arresting vigil participants and forcing them into close quarters, the police compromised public health measures and put them at risk.
Given the importance of peaceful assembly and the need for people to jointly raise their voices, especially in difficult times, this fundamental right must urgently be restored at this moment of critical importance for our country. The scrutiny of public institutions is important at all times, but all the more urgent when over 13,000 people have died just from COVID-19. There must also be space to grieve and address the collective trauma of this devastating pandemic.
We call for an end to the suppression of peaceful gatherings for the police to revoke the RM2,000 compounds issued to each participant and drop further investigations into the vigil under the Peaceful Assembly Act and other laws. The voices of people in Malaysia must not be silenced.”
On the evening of 19 August, a group of individuals, including youths and activists gathered at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur for a vigil to mourn the deaths from COVID-19. Police broke up the gathering and arrested 31 participants, who were not informed of the reason for their arrests. Lawyers representing the activists were also denied immediate access to their clients, with only two lawyers permitted to enter the police station where those detained were held.
All 31 activists were released after being issued a RM2,000 compound each for violating pandemic control measures. Dang Wangi Police ACP Chief Noor Dellhan Yahaya also said the 31 will be investigated for other offences under the Peaceful Assembly Act and the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act.
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