Human Rights Watch on Wednesday condemned criminal charges being brought against organisers of rallies protesting Malaysia’s May 5 election, which the opposition claims was marred by fraud.
At least six people have been charged since the end of May with violating Malaysia’s Peaceful Assembly Act by not giving police 10-days notice before holding demonstrations - something HRW said runs contrary to human rights standards.
“Prosecuting activists for organising peaceful protests makes a mockery of the prime minister’s promises to establish a rights-respecting government in Malaysia,” said Phil Robertson, the New York-based group’s deputy Asia director.
Tens of thousands have continued to attend a series of rallies led by Anwar Ibrahim’s opposition party - which claims it was denied victory last month by abuses of the electoral process - in defiance of a government crackdown.
The government has warned that protestors will “pay the price” and has pressed ahead with charging four others - including an opposition MP - under the Sedition Act, a much-criticised piece of legislation which Prime Minister Najib Razak had pledged to repeal last year.
Anwar’s opposition pact took 51 per cent of the popular vote but the ruling coalition, which has been in power for 56-years, still won the election with 133 of the 222 parliamentary seats.
The opposition is now planning a mass gathering in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur on June 15.
But authorities are unlikely to tolerate a street demonstration. Previous marches calling for electoral reform have ended with police firing tear gas, water cannons and arresting hundreds of protestors.
The three-party opposition plans to file court challenges to the result in 27 parliamentary seats. If all are successful, it would give them victory.
But critics claim the courts and Election Commission are in thrall to the ruling coalition, making it highly unlikely the opposition would prevail.
The opposition claims voter rolls were full of irregularities to sway the results in favour of the ruling coalition. The government denies the election was unfair.