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CIJ condemns government's intimidation of media and electoral reform activist

(CIJ, interim member/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemns the arrest and remand of media and electoral reform activist Wong Chin Huat on 5 May 2009 over his strong calls against the Barisan Nasional party's takeover of the state of Perak and refusal to call for new elections in the state following the political crisis that has been going on since February.

CIJ views this as an act of intimidation by the police against activists critical of the government. Citizens and interest groups have the right to express their political views and opinions without fear of persecution. Wong is a political scientist who led a press conference on 5 May to call for the 1BlackMalaysia campaign, urging people to wear black on 7 May when the Perak state legislative assembly sits.

The campaign slogan refers to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's call for 1Malaysia, which has resulted in no democratic reforms at all.

According to Wong's lawyer, Lathifah Koya, police arrested Wong at his home on the evening of 5 May, confiscated his computer and took him to the Commercial Crimes Department following a police report filed against Wong over the 1BlackMalaysia campaign. Police subsequently remanded Wong for one day but failed to charge him with an offence. Wong was expected to be released on 6 May.

CIJ condemns the police's unprofessional behaviour in denying Wong access to his lawyers on the night Wong was arrested and refusing to answer queries by lawyers about the nature of the offence allegedly committed. Once again, this demonstrated the police's inability to remain independent politically. The relentless effort to sensitize the Perak issue, starting from the seizure of opposition party publications, followed by the charging of online commentators in March, and now the action against Wong, sends the message to the public that discussion and activism on this issue are strongly forbidden.

The northern Perak state was scheduled to hold its legislative assembly meeting on 7 May, but this has been mired in controversy since February, when the Barisan Nasional ousted the elected government of Pakatan Rakyat.

The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH) said in its statement that Barisan Nasional's refusal to call for fresh elections and the short-lived media curfew as well as a general lockdown of the city of Ipoh, where the Legislature is seated, are the latest developments that show Najib's total disregard of the rule of law and constitutional democracy in Malaysia. Najib has clearly failed to restore public confidence in the independence of state institutions as they continue to become instruments to maintain the power of the ruling government. Conversely, this episode casts a deep cynicism over Najib's commitment to reform.

CIJ calls on the state to cease employing intimidation tactics and undermining people's right to expression.

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