Arrests, Tension on the Streets of KL amid Massive Anti-Corruption Protest

Arrests, Tension on the Streets of KL amid Massive Anti-Corruption Protest
Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像

What you need to know

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur today, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over the growing 1MDB scandal.

Although he had a programme abroad, former Malaysia prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned to the capital city for the highly-anticipated Bersih 5 rally today amidst high tensions.

The country's fourth prime minister was seen wearing the yellow Bersih 5 T-shirt along with other participants at the Bangsar LRT station at 2 p.m. He was with his son Mukhriz and former deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, both of whom were also wearing the Bersih T-shirt.

Mahathir commended the "high turnout" for the Bersih 5 rally, despite threats and provocation, capped by a wave of arrests last night.

"There are many participants here today, but the government is cowardly," he said. "They want to prevent demonstrations, which is the right of the people, which is in the Federal Constitution."

Asked if the rally is Chinese-dominated, a criticism that pro-government quarters had levelled against last year's Bersih 4, Mahathir says there is no question of race at the rally.

"Everyone is concerned about the government we have here now," he said.

Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像
Protesters occupy a street during a rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Malaysian police detained 12 activists and tightened security ahead of the rally Saturday by electoral reform group Bersih (clean) seeking Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over a financial scandal. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Spate of arrests ahead of protest

Kuala Lumpur police confirmed the arrest of 10 individuals last night in relation to today's Bersih 5 rally, and said that they are on the look out for several other individuals linked to the pro-electoral reform movement.

"The arrests were to prevent rioting, breach of peace and public disturbance during the Bersih 5 rally," said Kuala Lumpur police chief Amar Singh Ishar Singh in a statement. "They were arrested in and around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor and all are being investigated under Section 147 and 511 of the Penal Code."

The statement also detailed the arrest of DAP MP Anthony Loke at a hotel near KL Sentral for a Bersih-related offence investigated under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act by Negeri Sembilan police. While Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Md Yunos and his lieutenant Ariffin Abu Bakar Ipin Keramat were arrested under Section 143 of the Penal Code for participating in an unlawful assembly, in relation to their involvement in the altercation during the Bersih 5 roadshow in Ampang. The duo are being investigated by the Selangor police.

Amar Singh also explained that Bersih chief Maria Chin was arrested yesterday during a raid at the NGO's office in Petaling Jaya, in relation to alleged funding from American billionaire George Soros' Open Society Foundations for the organisation. Maria is being investigated under Section 124C of the Penal Code for attempting to conduct activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy. Police will apply for remand for all those arrested, under Section 117 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Last night police started to preemptively arrest influential figures from both Bersih and the red-shirts, in what was seen as harassment and an attempt to hamstring Bersih 5. The electoral reform coalition however vowed to go on even without those arrested.

Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像

'Police just doing duty'

On the turnout appearing to be poorer than Bersih 4, which saw over 100,000 turn up for the two-day rally, Mahathir said, "We have to keep on doing something [...] the government is using the police to prevent people from having a peaceful rally."

Commenting on the police blockade, Mahathir admitted they are doing their duty.

"But we are doing this peacefully. There shouldn't be blockades. This is what we say undermining democracy, it's not Bersih who is undermining democracy," he said.

Mahathir was earlier seen getting off a plane after attending an event in Sudan.

His appearance comes as a surprise, after he was reported saying he would not be attending the rally for electoral and democratic reforms.

The long-running former prime minister, who himself had been known to incarcerate his political enemies, raised eyebrows last year when he made an unannounced appearance at Bersih 4 and endorsed the people's right to assemble and their demands.

Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像
Ambiga Sreenevasan, leader of Malaysian Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), rises a clenched fist during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Bersih means "clean" in the Malay language. (AP Photo/Lim Huey Teng)

This article is a compilation of two pieces published by Malaysiakini. The News Lens has been authorized to republish this work.

TNL Editor: Edward White