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Crackdown on electoral reform protesters violates right to free expression, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Kuala Lumpur 09.07.11: Malaysian police arrested more than 1600 protestors on Saturday and fired water cannons and tear-gas at the Bersih 2.0 rally demanding electoral reforms. ARTICLE 19 condemns the massive crackdown on peaceful protestors and urges the Malaysian Government to immediately release all detainees and not take legal actions against them.

"The right to peaceful protest is a vital component of democracy. By taking such a heavy-handed action against civil society activists calling for the cause of clean and fair elections, the Malaysian Government is preventing legitimate political expression and seriously setting back democracy in Malaysia," said Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"We urge Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government to respect the right to freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," continued Callamard.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur today demanding changes to the voting process including eradication of vote buying, equal access to the media for all parties and the cleaning-up of electoral rolls. They faced baton-holding riot police who used force to prevent the crowds from marching towards Stadium Merdeka.

Organisers initially agreed to hold Saturday's protest at a stadium following concerns from the authorities that a planned street protest could turn into a riot but they decided to resume the march after police refused to provide the necessary permit.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (more commonly known as "Bersih 2.0") was set up in 2006 and comprised of 62 civil society organisations and political parties with the objective of campaigning for clean and fair elections in Malaysia.

It is expected that Malaysia will call for General Elections early next year. In addition to the rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysians abroad held simultaneous gatherings in Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong.

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