KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 ― Putrajaya’s mass arrest of protesters rallying against the Goods and Services Tax (GST) yesterday should trigger alarm internationally over how the country is veering off the democratic path, global rights group Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said the arrests are “nothing short of outrageous”, demanding that the federal government “immediately and unconditionally release all the peaceful May 1st anti-GST protesters”.
“This wave of arrests should raise alarm bells among international friends of Malaysia about just how far the powers that be in Putrajaya are dragging the country off the path of democratic, rights-respecting governance,” the deputy director of the watchdog’s Asia division said in a statement today.
Robertson stressed that authorities should not deem peaceful protest as illegal, stating: “Expressing views and holding a peaceful, public march should not be considered a crime in Malaysia or anywhere else in the world.”
The police reportedly arrested 29 people over the rally for alleged unlawful assembly, among other things, with police also reportedly seizing several “smoke bombs”.
The rally by civil society movement #KitaLawan kicked off shortly after 2.30pm yesterday afternoon from several meeting points and drew a reported crowd of nearly 10,000 participants to the streets of the capital.
There were no report of injuries or casualties arising from the rally, that is said to have progressed peacefully in a march by a sea of thousands of Malaysians clothed in red and black.
After the event, however, police claimed on their official Facebook account that the rally was not fully under control, citing incidents of alleged vandalism and smoke bombs being thrown by the protesters to back up its claim.
The police also said protesters had brought children to the rally - which could be an offence under the Peaceful Assembly Act.