UN human rights experts have denounced what they called “disturbing” harassment of Malaysian activists who are pushing for election reform and urged the government to protect them. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections staged a rally by tens of thousands in Kuala Lumpur on April 28 that ended with protesters clashing with police, who arrested more than 500 people. Since then, leaders of the coalition, which groups dozens of non-governmental organisations, have complained of an official campaign to “demonise” them and of tacit harassment by authorities of coalition members.
The coalition’s leader Ambiga Sreenevasan, in particular, has been targeted by protests outside her home and has reported receiving threats and being called a traitor. “I am seriously concerned by these disturbing acts of harassment against a prominent woman human rights defender who is being targeted because of her legitimate human rights activities in Malaysia,” UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said in a statement released Thursday.
Maina Kiai, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of opinion, urged Malaysia to withdraw a civil suit filed against group leaders over damage caused during the April rally. “Holding assembly organisers liable for the alleged unlawful conduct of others is not compatible with standards governing the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and has a detrimental effect on the exercise of this right,” Kiai said in the statement. Besides the civil suit and other actions, various current or former officials have publicly attacked the coalition — known in Malaysia as “Bersih”, for the Malay word for “clean” — as radicals seeking to overthrow the government.