A panel of UN human rights experts urged [press release] the government of Malaysia on Thursday to protect non-governmental organizations advocating for reform of the electoral process against acts of intimidation and harassment from various groups. The UN panel particularly urged Malaysian authorities to protect members of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, known as Bersih [advocacy website], and one of its directors, Ambiga Sreenevasan. In the press release, Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, expressed worry about the death threats and acts of harassment against Sreenevasan and Bersih:
I am seriously concerned by these disturbing acts of harassment against a prominent woman human rights defender who is being targeted because of her legitimate human rights activities in Malaysia. I urge the authorities to investigate thoroughly these allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable, and effectively protect Ms. Sreenevasan, and more generally, Bersih members.Malaysia's next general election is scheduled to take place no later than April 2013.
Malaysia's recent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators has been a subject of controversy. Two weeks ago, Malaysian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim [personal profile; JURIST news archive] was charged [JURIST report] with violating the Peaceful Assembly Act [text, PDF] by participating in a large demonstration demanding electoral reforms. In December a UN panel of independent human rights experts warned that the Peaceful Assembly Act would severely curtail [JURIST report] citizens' right to peaceably assemble. In November Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak [official profile] defended the law [JURIST report], saying it would balance citizens' right to protest with public safety concerns. However, it has drawn ire from both Malaysians and the international community. Anwar himself has stated that the bill is more draconian than previous free speech crackdowns in Zimbabwe and Myanmar [JURIST reports].