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CIJ calls for release of Burmese refugees arrested at peaceful assembly

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemns the police harassment and arrests of 16 Burmese refugees at a gathering to mark the 64th birthday of Burmese political icon Aung San Suu Kyi. The arrests of the refugees, who gathered to show global solidarity for Suu Kyi again reveals the lack of respect for citizens' and non-citizen's rights to the universal freedoms of expression and assembly.

On 19 June 2009, a gathering to commemorate Suu Kyi's birthday, organised by the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council and the federal opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat, was disrupted when police arrested 16 Burmese participants.

According to the People's Justice Party (PKR) information chief, Latheefah Koya, police started arresting the Burmese refugees, who were invited by the organisers, before the event officially started. To prevent attendance, Latheefah said the police set up roadblocks around the venue, in an open area of a shopping mall. The PKR is one of the partners in the opposition pact.

When contacted by CIJ, a police spokesperson confirmed the setting up of roadblocks because the assembly was deemed illegal without a permit and that the Burmese citizens were arrested for "not having a passport." However, Latheefah, who is also a lawyer, said the need for a permit did not arise as the event was organised by the Municipal Council. Moreover, she said the police proceeded with the arrests without implementing the standard procedure for illegal assembly by giving warnings to the participants to disperse.

According to the human rights group Suaram, two of the Burmese refugees were released on the night of their arrest while the rest are still being detained without access to legal assistance, although some of them have a document issued by the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees. That Suu Kyi's fellow Burmese citizens were arrested for celebrating her birthday is a disgrace on the part of the Malaysian authorities.

The police force has shown itself to be partisan against the opposition political parties and critics, among others in the way it reacted against public assemblies on the Perak state political crisis in the last three months.

CIJ is concerned that violations of fundamental human rights will be a permanent feature of police actions against individuals, groups and political parties, and the organisation calls for the police to cease such undemocratic tactics immediately. CIJ also urges the police to immediately release those detained.

CIJ is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all people will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.

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