Posted: 28 Mar 2015 07:23 AM PDT
Malaysian police arrested three leading opposition politicians in a bid to thwart a protest march on Saturday demanding the release of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, his party said.
The protest went ahead anyway, however, with several hundred people taking to the streets of the capital Kuala Lumpur to denounce the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The arrests are the latest in an growing tally of sedition charges levelled at government opponents amid anger over Anwar’s jailing last month on a sodomy charge.
“This is an abuse of the sedition law, and an abuse of everything. The government is acting maliciously,” said Tian Chua, a member of parliament and vice president of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party, shortly before he was arrested on Saturday.
Police had banned the rally and said participants faced arrest.
Demonstrators staged a short march through the city towards its convention centre, where participants had vowed to disrupt wedding celebrations for Najib’s daughter.
Scores of police blocked them from the area, and they later dispersed. There were no arrests or violent incidents reported.
Washington has been among the international critics of Anwar’s conviction and the crackdown on dissent, saying both raised rule-of-law concerns.
Anwar denies the charge that he sodomised a former male aide in 2008, saying it was fabricated by Malaysia’s long-ruling government to halt a run of opposition electoral gains.
Najib promised in 2011 to end the authoritarian tactics of his ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
But after that failed to win back ebbing voter support in 2013 polls, his government has launched a tightening clampdown in which dozens of opponents were hauled up on sedition or other charges over the past year.
Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah, a member of parliament and one of those charged recently with sedition, warned Friday that Malaysia was sliding toward becoming a “police state”.
Najib last week defended his policies, saying dissent cannot be allowed to jeopardise stability.
But Amnesty International last Monday noted “troubling signs of an escalating crackdown” on civil liberties.
“The space for dissent and debate in Malaysia is rapidly shrinking, under the guise of punishing ‘sedition’ or maintaining public order,” it said in a statement.
Besides Tian Chua, police on Saturday also arrested Mohamad Sabu, deputy president of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
Rafizi Ramli, a vice president of Anwar’s party, was arrested on Friday.
A police official confirmed Rafizi’s arrest but declined comment on the others.
It was not clear what the men, who were still in custody later Saturday, would be charged with.
Posted: 28 Mar 2015 07:14 AM PDT
With global democracy declining for the ninth year in a row, we look at some of the opposition leaders around the world who have been charged with sodomy, bribery and arson, and who now face prison and even death sentences.
Founder of the opposition Popular Will party, Leopoldo López was arrested on 18 February 2014 after calling for citizens to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro, whose leadership has seen Venezuela pushed into the top 10 countries in the world for corruption and homicide. Charges of murder and terrorism were later downgraded to arson, damage and inciting violence, for which he is still on trial.
While travelling to Eritrea in June 2014, Tsige disappeared during a stopover at Sana'a airport and was subsequently extradited to Ethiopia, where he remains on death row. Amnesty International has closely documented Tsige's case, and online petitions call for his release.
As president of the Maldives, Nasheed sought to arrest the chief judge of the criminal court for corruption in January 2012, but was forced to resign from office in what was effectively a coup. Now leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic party, he was arrested on terrorism charges and jailed for 13 years earlier this month.
The MDP launched a national civil disobedience campaign to free Nasheed on 15 March, calling for citizens to take to the street in peaceful protest. His trial was deemed deeply flawed by Amnesty International.
Musallam al-Barrak, leader of the Popular Action Movement opposition, is accused of insulting Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah during a speech while he was an MP in October 2012. His speech protested that changes in law would allow the al-Sabah family to manipulate election outcomes.
Authorities have cracked down on their opposition since mass protests in 2012, and numerous former MPs and tweeters have since been jailed for criticising the emir. Al-Barrak was sentenced to two years in prison in February. Amnesty International has been calling for his release.
On 10 February 2015, Malaysia's highest court upheld a five-year prison sentence for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on a sodomy charge. The action came after a former campaign worker filed a sexual assault claim against him. Anal sex is illegal in Malaysia. Ibrahim was previously acquitted of the crime in 2012, but the ruling was overturned days before he was set to contest an election in March 2014. Critics describe his arrest as a government attempt to block the opposition's ascendancy.
There are Facebook and Twitter campaigns for his release, and political coalition Pakatan Rakyat launched a petition to pardon Ibrahim on 16 March.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Free Fair DRC campaign group has been active in raising awareness, and Ewanga's case was discussed in British parliament during October 2014, where it garnered 28 signatures from across party lines.
Professor Ibrahim Lipumba, chairman of the Civic United Front party, was arrested on 28 January 2015 and for holding political rallies without a permit ahead of the October 2015 Tanzanian elections. New charges of conspiracy, unlawful assembly and rioting were issued on 25 February. With Lipumba currently out on bail, the case has been adjourned until April 13.
Unified Democratic Forces party leader Victoire Ingabire returned to Rwanda in January 2010, after living in exile for 16 years in the Netherlands, to stand in that year's elections. She was arrested in April 2010 and barred from running for office.
She was charged with "threatening state security" and "belittling Rwanda's 1994 genocide" after questioning why the country's official memorial excluded Hutus (some moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists alongside Tutsis). She boycotted the trial, which she described as politically motivated, and refused to appear in court. Courts upheld the conviction and increased her jail term from eight to 15 years, reviving previously dropped charges of encouraging revolt, after an appeal in December 2013. Her supporters call for international mobilisation against her imprisonment.
Abu Issa's health has deteriorated since his arrest. Amnesty International and Canadian organisation Lawyers' Rights Watch have spearheaded calls for the 82-year-old's release.
Mario Masuku, president of banned opposition party of the People's United Democratic Movement, was detained on terrorism charges after delivering a speech on 1 May 2014 that criticised the system of government in Swaziland. He has been denied bail twice, despite severe health problems, and could face 15 years behind bars if convicted.
Online petitions call for Masuku's release, while blogs have reported widespread support from politicians, organisations and individuals including the International Trade Union Confederation, the African National Congress and Unison.
The initial accusations of adultery and bribery were dropped in favour of corruption charges, and on 15 January 2015, Bamvuginyumvira was sentenced to five years in prison. A 2014 report by Amnesty International included a section on his case.
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