Joint Statement: Release participants of candlelight vigil immediately

Joint statement by FOE Cluster members and other civil society organisations and individuals calling for the release of participants of 19 Aug 2021 candlelight vigil held at Dataran Merdeka to commemmorate those who have died of COVID-19. 19 Aug 2021

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We call on the authorities to immediately release the 17 men and 14 women arrested tonight for holding a candlelight vigil at Dataran Merdeka.

The vigil included participants from Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat and was to commemorate and remember all those who have died from Covid-19. Many of these deaths were avoidable and were a direct result of the government’s failure to take effective measures to manage the pandemic. 

The participants were exercising their right to peaceful assembly and they should not be intimidated and arrested for exercising this right. The vigil was held in a large outdoor space which allowed for sufficient distancing between participants. Physical distancing and mask wearing were strictly observed by everyone present at the vigil. 

While restrictions on large gatherings may be imposed due to public health concerns, they must be necessary and proportionate to the aim that they intend to achieve.

It is completely unnecessary, disproportionate and a violation of participants’ rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression to arrest them and to cart them away in Black Marias. The police reportedly failed to inform participants that they were being arrested nor were their rights read to them. Police officers also reportedly dragged two women against their will to the vehicles. 

By putting participants in Black Maria vehicles, the authorities were forcing them together into a confined space. If they were truly concerned about public health, they would allow the participants to complete their vigil in the large outdoor space that they were in and let them peacefully disperse. 

Malaysia has recorded over 13,000 deaths from Covid-19. Many more of such deaths will certainly occur with cases hitting a record high of 22,948 cases today. Cases and ICU admissions are rising dramatically outside of the Klang Valley, worryingly in smaller states which have limited supplies of ICU beds and facilities. The poor have been disproportionately affected, becoming even poorer due to the economic fallout from the pandemic. 

It is more important than ever for the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression to be protected. The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse by the authorities to silence criticism of the government’s failings. In any event, this government has loosened restrictions and even allowed indoor dine-in in Phase 1 states, where diners will be unmasked and in close quarters. It is thus utterly incongruous for the authorities to arrest participants of a peaceful vigil held outdoors with physical distancing and face masks on at all times. 

We stand against the use of the authorities to silence dissent and criticism. We stand for the freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly. We stand with the young people and our colleagues who have been arrested for expressing the nation’s sorrow.

We call for their immediate release. Anything less dishonours the dead for whom these brave participants gathered to remember tonight. 

Endorsed by the following CSOs and individuals:

Agora Society

ALIRAN

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)

Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan

Amnesty International Malaysia

Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM)

Angkatan Mahasiswa UM

Benazir Japiril Bandaran

Bersih 2.0

Beyond Borders Malaysia

Borneo Komrad

Cahaya Society

Centre for Independent Journalism

Communication Action Network (CAN)

Demokrat Kebangsaan

Demokrat UM

Family Frontiers

Freedom Film Network

GERAK

Justice for Sisters

Ivy Josiah

Karyasama

Klima Action Malaysia (KAMY)

KRYSS Network

Malaysia Youths and Students Evolution Melaka

Malaysia Youths and Students Evolution Johor Branch

MAJU

NESA

North South Initiative

Pertubuhan Muafakat Sabah

Persatuan Promosi Hak Asasi Manusia (PROHAM)

Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR)

Pusat KOMAS

Pusat Sekitar Seni (PSS)

Sabah Reform Initiative (SARI)

Sisters in Islam

Student Progressive Front UUM

SUARAM

UMANY

Undi Sabah

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