By Charles Santiago
Tens of thousands of Malaysians took to the streets on Saturday, demanding free and fair elections, reforms to the existing system of governance and urging Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down, following allegations of corruption linked to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal.
The Bersih rally was a legitimate show of dissatisfaction against a government as the right to freedom of expression and assembly is enshrined in our Federal Constitution and forms the fundamentals of a functioning democracy.
As such, holding Bersih 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act or SOSMA is ludicrous.
It’s clearly done in bad faith as Maria Chin poses no security threat and neither is she a terrorist.
SOSMA was initially introduced to combat terrorist threats in Malaysia, and the Umno-led government had assured that the act would not be used against political opponents or legitimate political activities.
But it has been widely used to suppress dissent and nab critics who condemn the 1MDB scandal and question Najib’s role, including the US$680 million that was in the premier’s private bank account.
Former Batu Kawan Umno vice-chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan, who was critical of Najib and the sovereign state fund’s huge debts, was prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law.
And so was his lawyer, Matthias Chang.
The latest victim is Maria Chin, who can be held in detention without trial for 28 days, for calling for a peaceful rally.
This is suppression of dissent by a prime minister who is terrified of losing power.
Najib is abusing his position and power to persecute Maria Chin rather than engage with and constructively respond to her viewpoint.
Or for that matter, the opinions of the scores of protesters who turned up at the streets despite threats and arrests of key Bersih and Opposition leaders plus student activists.
Maria Chin must therefore be released immediately, for she was only exercising her right as a citizen of this country.
Continuing to hold her under SOSMA will only take a further whack at Najib’s already tattered image.
This article originally appeared in Berita Daily.