Vigil for the release of the PSM 6 outside Bukit Aman police HQ, Kuala Lumpur, on July 13. Photo by PSM.
A week after Malaysian authorities failed to stop people taking to the streets of the capital Kuala Lumpur on July 9 to demand free and fair elections, six activists from the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) remained in detention without trial. The detainees include federal member of parliament Dr Jeyakumar Deveraj, who has been hailed by a prominent local writer as “the Malaysian saint of the poor”.
PSM secretary general S. Arutchelvan told Green Left Weekly that he agreed with the civil society organisers of the July 9 Bersih 2.0 (“bersih” means clean in Malay) that the number of people who defied incredible police repression to come out in the streets that day was about 50,000. Police reportedly detained up to 1600 people and repeatedly fired teargas into peaceful groups of people.
“I estimate 50,000, but thousands more were denied entry to KL that day. Al Jazeera reported that 100,000 turned out, the BBC reported 120,000. But the government-controlled local media said it was only 10-20,000. The police said there were only 5-6000.
“But if there had been no massive crackdown, mass arrests, buses denied permits, lock down of Kuala Lumpur, then the numbers of people who took to the streets would have easily gone beyond 100,000.”
Most of the democracy supporters detained on July 9 have since been freed, but the six PSM detainees remain in solitary confinement in several police stations around the country. They are locked up in tiny and 2 metres-by-2.5 metre cells, where they are forced to sleep on the floor with the lights on and face repeated and aggressive hours-long interrogations.
In interrogations, some of the detainees have been threatened with charges carrying the death penalty. They described this as “mental torture”.
Two detainees have been taken under guard to hospital because of heart concerns.
The authorities have used a large variety of legal pretenses for the detention of the PSM activists.
The six were part of a larger of group of 30 PSM activists detained on June 25 while participating in a peaceful political roadshow calling on the Barisan Nasional government to resign.
First, they were remanded for seven days so they could be investigated under Section 122 of Malaysia’s penal code for allegedly “waging war against the King”.
However, not one of the detainees have been charged under this law.
On June 4, after 10 days in remand, 24 of the PSM detainees were charged under Section 48 and Section 43 of the Societies Act and section Section 29 (1) of the Internal Security Act for being in possession of “subversive documents”.
“In the charge sheet, it is stated that the illegal organisation they are alleged to be part of is Bersih and the subversive documents were Bersih leaflets”, said Arutchelvan. “So it appears that the Section 122 was just a device to get a longer remand. None of the questions asked of the detainees during that time was related to the ‘waging war on the King’ charge.”
On July 2, the end of the seven-day remand period for investigation of the bogus charge, the police released six of the detainees including Dr. Jeyakumar, M. Saraswathy (PSM deputy national chairperson), Choo Chon Kai (PSM central committee member and international relations officer) and three other PSM members from charges under Section 122.
However, they immediately rearrested the six under the draconian “emergency ordinance” (EO). The six were initially given family notification letters that stated they were arrested under the EO to prevent them from participating in the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally.
But since then, police investigators have been trying to concoct new conspiracy theories to justify the detentions, Arutchelvan told a July 14 media conference in Kuala Lumpur. The initial letter of notification “was later replaced by another letter that stated that they have been arrested under the Emergency Ordinance to maintain public order”, he said.
“To the media, the Deputy Inspector General of Police (IGP) said that those arrested under EO were subversives with links to foreign elements. The foreign elements mentioned in the media was Song Min-young, a Korean intern who was deported on July 1 and Filipino Romeo Castillo, who was deported on July 6. All of them had no charge laid against them. So now it is clear that this was yet another hollow allegation.”
The police also told local media that the PSM was trying to revive the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP) and said that they had found T-shirts with the pictures of former MCP leaders on the detained activists.
However no charges relating to this have been laid.
Now, Arutchelvan said, the police are trying to frame the PSM, “which has always practiced an open and transparent kind of politics”, for organising a clandestine plan to violently overthrow the government in an “Arab-Egypt kind of revolution”.
“This information is based on the intense interrogations done by three units of the police … They used various techniques and interrogations, abusive language, soft and hard approach, instilling fear, torture (they were made to stand for entire question time of seven hours) as well as pitting one member against another.”
“The police are refusing to accept the rights of those detained to use the rights to remain silence and tell their story in a court”, Arutchelvan added. “This is a right accorded by law.”
The accusation that the PSM is planning an “Arab-Egypt kind of revolution”, Arutchelvan said, is based on a resolution adopted on the PSM’s congress in June.
“This document was not a secret document and was notified to the media”, he said. “The PSM was talking about making a brave choice for regime change through the general election, but it is now twisted to say that PSM is planning to topple the government by street demonstration.
“Let us be clear that PSM supports any kind of peaceful democratic movement. As long as the majority of the people want to bring about change in a nation, we would support any form of democratic movement as long as it is not violent.”
On the 15th day of their detention, the “PSM 6” (as they are now popularly known in Malaysia), were allowed brief 15-minute family visits. Jeyakumar was also visited by three MPs from other opposition parties.
The Asian Human Rights Commission has called for the release of the PSM detainees and socialists groups from around the world have issued a statements of solidarity.
An online petition for their release can be signed at: www.petitiononline.com/eo6/petition.html.
You can SMS Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Ismail Omar, at +60 196000157 to urge him to release the EO 6.