by Charlotte Chin, Passau, Germany
Bersih is a coalition consisting of several human-rights organizations and non-governmental organizations which are campaigning for the reformation of the electoral system and for good governance in Malaysia.
The country has suffered under massive electoral misconduct and has been ruled by the same coalition (Barisan Nasional) since its independence in 1957. Malaysia is also becoming infamous for corruption. The latest scandal involves a Malaysian state investment fund called 1MDB (follow this link to receive further information). Several newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal has reported that huge sums of money from the 1 MDB fund have been transferred into private accounts of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The estimated amount comes to 700 million US$. The Prime Minister himself claimed that the money was donated by an unknown Arab prince. How idiotic must people who to believe such a blatant lie and how offensive must it be for Malaysians to realize that their head of state rates them as completely dumb?
Among other interesting actions which were taken to save his power, Najib Razak fired the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to replace him with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in 2015 mentioning that loyalty was more important to him than intelligence. Best perspectives for a country which is still regarded as an „emerging nation“ and which is lacking in so many different areas: rising living costs, the faltering currency and the oppression of the press are just a few issues affecting Malaysians. Besides these, Najib Razak reshuffled the whole cabinet, which was followed by the dismissal of other not- so- loyal politicians- meaning politicians who dared to criticize the almighty Prime Minister. In 2015 the former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was detained and since then countless activists, journalists, students and politicians were arrested. A clear indicator for the non-existence of freedom of speech was the shutdown of newspapers such as the Malaysian Insider or Aliran and the harrassment journalists experienced.
Although the government is already instrumentalizing several laws which they interpretate the way they wished to and which include detention without trial, the National Security Act was passed in August 2016. Since that day the Prime Minister has the power to declare state of emergency in certain areas and anyone who is located in that area during that time, can be arrested and detained without trial. But that´s not all. The Prime Minister can command the military and police to shoot at these people. You can imagine that this law can easily be applied on demonstrations.
I attended the first demonstration after the National Security Act was passed which was an experiment to observe if and how radical police interfered and if they used water cannons, tear gas or even guns. The rally was organized by the student movement and was called „Tangkap MO1“ (= Catch Malaysian Official No.1). We were demonstrating for the resignation of the Prime Minister to raise the awareness of the Malaysians, and also to release detainees whose judicial decisions were clearly politically motivated. We protested for around four hours; hundreds of people gathered, walked together through the capital city Kuala Lumpur and did a sit-in while speeches were given.
Luckily, the police did not interfere in a violent way but arrests took place before and after the rally. Among us were children and I was wondering what might happen to them, if the police decided to crush the rally. I was even wondering more why parents are taking their children to street rallies and if they were aware of the possible consequences. Whoever is reading this article, please leave your children at home and don´t mess around with their lives by taking them to street demonstrations which might escalate! Just imagine it comes to a mass panic. How can you keep them safe them from being stamped down?
Apart from criticizing the attendance of children, there are more than 100 good reasons to organize and attend street demonstrations to show the people´s dissatisfaction. From the beginning of October until the 19th of November Bersih convoys covered several towns and cities as well as rural areas to raise awareness and to motivate people to join the rally. Participants distributed flyers, organized flash mobs and started conversations with Malaysians to discuss the impact of corruption and the need for reformation. Bersih 5.0 was announced for the 19th of November 2016, not only in Malaysia but also at international level. Migrated Malaysians started showing solidarity with the foundation of Global Bersih.
You can find chapters in Australia, Asia, Europe and America. When the date for Bersih 5.0 was fixed, people all around the world started organizing demonstrations in their cities to raise awareness of the locals and to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Malaysia.
The student group of Amnesty International in Passau organized an event related to the ideas of Bersih which took place on 21st of November at the uni campus. We campaigned for clean and fair elections, informed students about the political situation in Malaysia and collected signatures to demand charges to be dropped against several human rights activists to silence oppositional voices. Affected activists are the former student group leader Adam Adli who is currently facing two years of jail-term, the organizers of Bersih Maria Chin Abdullah who is currently detained under SOSMA and is kept in solidary confinement, Mandeep Singh, the state assemblyman of the federal state of Pahang, Chean Chung, who might lose his political position and the cartoonist Zunar who is facing 43 years of prison for his regime-critical cartoons.
One day before Bersih 5.0 took place, Mandeep Singh and Maria Chin Abdullah as well as Zuraida Kamaruddin (PKR), Anthony Loke (DAP), Howard Lee (DAP) and other individuals were arrested and the Bersih office was raided by the police.
The eve before the rally I received this Whatsapp message which highlighted the situation.
It is the eve of the BERSIH rally, we are sure that everybody is preparing for the rally for what seems to be the next step to achieving a free and fair election for Malaysia. It was around 6.00 p.m., we were at home preparing dinner when we received a call from a family friend asking if we were ok and if we heard about the news. Confused about what was going on, we asked her what happened. She explained to us that our mother has been arrested and was brought to a police station for further processing. Within the next hour we were at the police station and as we arrived we had to wait for one of our mother’s lawyer to bring us in to see our mother. While we were in the processing room, our mother explained to us that she was being charged for destabilizing the government. Both Mandeep and our mother were reassuring us that everything is going to be fine in a calm and collective state. We hoped that the charges would be dropped and that she would be released soon.
After everything that has transpired, it is disappointing that people that fight for a fair and clean election have been branded as a threat to the country. Is this the type of country that we Malaysian’s want to live in, where corruption runs a mock and elections are rigged and innocents are placed behind bars? When we were younger, we did not understand what our parents were fighting for or why our father was protesting strongly against I.S.A. He is gone now. We are old enough to understand the importance and sacrifice of the work that people like them do. People like our parents, who are willing to speak up against corruption do not to it for their own sake, but for the sake of the future generations.
As we are writing this, we as Malaysian’s are hours away from an opportunity to voice out to make a change in Malaysia. It is why it is so important for us as Malaysian’s to show that we will not tolerate the injustice that government officials have gotten away with. We implore to our fellow Malaysian’s that are attending the rally or are watching it at home, to listen to the speakers and to understand what BERSIH is trying to achieve. We hope that the rally will be peaceful and see you there.
Azumin, Aziman, Azemi.
After the arrests, Malaysian citizens gathered on the night of 18th November to pressure the government to release the activists. The next day the rally took place and Bersih united tens of thousands of Malaysians who joined the cause, formed a massive yellow wave and took it to the streets.
I followed the event by watching everything which was uploaded by the online portals of “The Star” and “Malaysiakini” and by receiving information from people who were attending the rally. I was highly impressed by the courage of the people who were aware of the consequences and the danger but who still took it to the streets and campaigned for change, and therefore for a better future of Malaysia, its future generations and for the good of all Malaysians. By just watching the news I felt the anger of the Malaysians.
While Bersih officials tried to avoid direct confrontation with the police so that demonstrators wouldn´t get hurt, individuals were refusing to follow the orders of the police since they didn´t see changes coming in behaving accordingly to the government´s instructions. The dilemma here is that these rallies can easily turn to bloody riots with a huge death toll.
During the protest activists, such as the PKR politician Tian Chua, the comedian Hishammuddin Rais and student activists were arrested and I am sure that they were not the last ones but that other arrests will follow within the next days.
Luckily police did not use tear gas or water canons but the red shirts, who deem themselves loyal to the government and who were probably paid by them, followed the Bersih convoys to start trouble, intimidated and harrassed Berish followers whenever they had the chance to and gathered during the Bersih demonstration not without threatening violence to Bersih participants.
Leader of the Red Shirt Movement Jamal “I am not saying we will use violence, anything can happen, including violence.”
However, the number of the Red Shirts was much fewer than that of the Bersih participants so that Jamal and his gang did not have a say during that day.
I personally think that Bersih 5.0 was really successful, because it achieved something that the government is desperately trying to avoid: uniting all Malaysians regardless of religion or ethnicity. Reformation will not come automatically and it will take a very long time until deep changes will be notable but having organizations like Bersih is a step towards democracy. Bersih paves the way for effective reforms and has challenged the government for years. They are independent from parties and without Bersih people would not have the chance to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the current policies and its course at such a huge level. It is necessary to have activists like Maria, Ambiga, Zunar, Adam, Hishammuddin Rais and all the students who are engaging in this course because they are the ones who are sacrificing a lot for the benefit of the nation which is really brave and highly respectable. No one can tell me that activists, who are not political representatives are profiting by spending their time in a dirty prison cell. Even if it is still a long way to go, people should not be disappointed but always continue the struggle for freedom.
Achieving nothing by your struggle is better than sitting around doing nothing. Everyone should remember that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (- Martin Luther King). I guess otherwise people have lost the moral right to complain because ignorance shows acceptance with the oppressor and their reign.
Charlotte Chin is a passionate blogger (raiseyourvoice1957.wordpress.com) with a Malaysian father and a German mother who lives in Germany and advocates for Change and Human Rights in Malaysia.