KUALA LUMPUR – The arrest and probe on Maria Chin Abdullah is “clearly persecution against a campaign seen to be anti-government”.
Using the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) over flyers being distributed by the Bersih 2.0 chairlady on next month’s Bersih 5 rally amounts to selective action and harassment, lawyers have said.
Civil liberties lawyer Eric Paulsen pointed out that distributing leaflets by itself is not an offence, adding that the use of an “obscure” legal provision under the PPPA that few actually adhere to against the polls reform group chief was “uncalled for”.
“The authorities already know who Bersih 2.0 and its steering committee is and where they are based.
“It’s (the law) not enforced consistently, it’s just bad faith and selective,” the executive director of Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) told Malay Mail Online when contacted Sunday.
Maria was Saturday arrested in Kota Marudu and investigated under Section 11 of the PPPA, which requires the name and address of the publisher and printer to be included in publications that are printed in Malaysia.
But Paulsen said such a provision was no longer relevant and is part of a “paranoia legislation”, adding that printers would not want to put their names on materials that are political in nature for fear of being targeted.
Another civil liberties lawyer, Syahredzan Johan, noted the PPPA has often been criticised as a law used to restrict freedom of speech and expression in the country, adding that Maria’s arrest is another example of how this Act can be “abused to clamp down on opposing and dissenting views”.
“But the point is there’s a lot of leaflets and pamphlets being distributed all over the country, why is it the police saw fit to take action against the one distributed by Bersih? And I doubt if for example if it’s not about Bersih, if the leaflet is not about Bersih 5 the police will take any action.
“I doubt this is the first time Bersih is distributing leaflets, in other places this leaflet was distributed, why did it become an issue for this particular area? So looking at all this, I would say Maria’s arrest is actually a form of harassment, an attempt to intimidate Maria and Bersih steering committee from doing what it intends to do,” he added.
Prominent lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was formerly the Bersih 2.0 co-chair, said the use of the PPPA provision against Maria does not make sense and is totally unnecessary.
“People give out leaflets all the time. And they clearly targeted Maria.
“The senseless persecution of Bersih continues with the arrest of Maria in Sabah. I am not even clear what the offence is! This paranoia over Bersih must stop,” she said when contacted.
The DAP has also described the action as unwarranted and its Gelang Patah lawmaker, Lim Kit Siang called on the IGP to take action against the high-handedness of the Kota Marudu police.