Malaysian campaigner for free and fair elections targeted at home
Posted on 25 May 2012

(Radio Australia) – The campaign for free and fair elections in Malaysia just got very personal, with protestors targetting the home of co-chair Ambiga Sreenevasan.

Listen at:

Bersih, which means ‘clean’ in Malay, is a coalition movement made up of sixty Malaysian ngos … their rally last month brought an estimated 100,000 people to central Kuala Lumpur.

Ms Ambiga’s home was this afternoon picketted by members of the Petty Traders’ Association, threatening to set up stalls in the leafy neighbourhood of Bukit Damansara, to make up for lost business last month.

In the end, intervention by city authorities stopped the traders carrying out their threat.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan, co-chair of Malaysia’s Bersih coalition for free and fair elections

AMBIGA: To be frank, I did not go out. But I was told that two groups of people, protesting, were trying to get to my gate. The police stopped most of them. In respect to the first group, about five people came to my gate, and handed over a memorandum, which basically, wanted my citizenship to be revoked and all sorts of things. That memorandum was handed to the (Bersih) co-chair, Samad Said. Then when that group left, another group came. This was the group that was supposed to set up the night market. They also had a few words, they handed over something to the co-chair again, and they’re dispersing.

LAM: And that second group, the Petty Traders’ Association – they vowed to set up a night market and night stalls outside your house in the neighbourhood – are they going ahead with that, tonight?

AMBIGA: No, they’re not, because I think the City Council enforcers were outside, as were the police. They have said they’re not going ahead with that, neither today, nor tomorrow. Obviously, it constitutes without a doubt in my mind, intimidation and harassment, which has been targetted solely at me. Almost on a daily basis, for the past ten days, I have been harassed and intimidated in this way, with threats of people coming and with people actually coming to my house. So this is the third such case.

LAM: Indeed, we also had an incident where some veteran servicemen or former soldiers wiggled their bottoms at you, outside your home. Have you contacted police, and indeed, how have Kuala Lumpur been treating you?

AMBIGA: Well, there’re two things here. The police on the ground, as well as the city council enforcers, are doing a good job. My quarrel is more with the people higher up, because had they taken timely action, right at the outset, things would not have descended to what it is today. It was almost like a war zone outside my house, and it’s terribly unfair on the neighbours. So I think the neighbours feel that way too, if the police had been decisive right at the start, it would not have deteriorated to this. The deputy inspector-general of police made a statement that there was no offence, if people came outside your house, and either protested or did those exercises. I’m very clear in my mind that it is either state-sponsored or certainly state-backed. And the reason I say that, is because of the response of the state to it. Although, to be fair to the police on the ground, they did do their job today, in stopping the people coming in, but it did not have to get to this stage. So they’ve allowed the intimidation to build up and to get to a certain level, before any concrete action was taken.

LAM: And Bukit Damansara is a well-heeled and quite leafy part of Kuala Lumpur. How do your civilised neighbours, if you like, what do they think of these protest actions in their neighbourhood?

AMBIGA: Oh, they’re horrified. And I can only thank them for being patient and supportive, because it is a shocking infringement of their rights, and their privacy and personal space have been violated, as have mine.

LAM: Of course, these targetted attacks are very personal. Have you received much moral support from the public?

AMBIGA: Oh, they’re the ones who keep me going! That’s where the support is coming from. And as I say, ultimately it’s the court of public opinion that’s going to count. If you saw the people who came to my house today, to support, people I hadn’t even met, and yet they felt strongly enough to come this afternoon, to support me because they did not like one bit, what was happening.

LAM: The opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and his deputy Azmin Ali, were this week charged in relation to the Bersih protests back in April. And you and the Bersih steering committee, are also to be prosecuted for damages – can you tell us about that?

AMBIGA: I can tell you about the suit I was served yesterday. It appears to be framed under the new Public Assembly Act, and it seems to be for negligence. But basically, what they’re doing is claiming special damages of $122,000 in relation to damage to police cars. And I think there’s generally a claim for, essentially a claim for negligence.

LAM: So it’s Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government that’s filing this suit?

AMBIGA: Yes, against ten of us.

LAM: That’s a bit extraordinary, for a government to file a civil suit against individuals for police vehicles?

AMBIGA: Well, I’ll have to let you all judget that, but we certainly will defend the suit vigorously.