KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 — The Najib administration’s threat to freeze the assets of those involved with Bersih 2.0 has revealed the government’s ignorance of public anger over its handling of last weekend’s rally, says Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan.
The Bersih 2.0 chief pointed out that despite bad global publicity, Putrajaya was keeping up its harassment after the demonstration by arresting those wearing its signature yellow T-shirts, as well as continuing the detention of six Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) members under the Emergency Ordinance 1969.
“It is more than just Bersih 2.0,” Ambiga told The Malaysian Insider, referring to the July 9 rally that drew tens of thousands.
“They don’t realise how unhappy people are at their high-handed actions and also the use of sledgehammer tactics. They’ve missed that point completely,” added the former Bar Council president.
Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Awang Adek Hussin said on Friday that central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), can freeze the assets of those believed to be participating in activities deemed risky to the nation’s security.
The DAP said such remarks will destroy Malaysia’s financial reputation, after foreign media excoriated the Najib administration over its crackdown on the electoral reform rally.
The authorities had fired teargas and water cannons at Bersih protestors after locking down the city, besides launching over 100 arrests in the weeks leading up to the rally and arresting nearly 1,700 demonstrators at the protest itself.
More than 197,000 people to date have also backed a Facebook campaign calling Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to resign, just a week after the Bersih march in the city.
“The authorities will be wise to understand that, more so than before, Bersih 2.0 represents an ideal, a feeling, and a yearning by the rakyat for all that is best in a democracy for our beloved country,” said Ambiga.
The first Bersih rally in 2007 was partly credited for the opposition’s historic gains in Election 2008, where the loose pact of PKR, DAP and PAS denied Barisan Nasional (BN) its customary two-thirds majority and swept to power in five states.
“The question is, since when has asking for free and fair elections been an unlawful purpose?” asked Ambiga.
The Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia reported on July 3 that Ambiga received funds from foreign non-profit organisations through a local bank, saying the bank was chosen to help the prominent lawyer in her plan to “cause chaos in Malaysia”.
Bersih 2.0 was also hit by allegations of having received funding from, among others, foreign Christian organisations to finance its July 9 rally for free and fair elections.
Ambiga stressed that women’s rights NGO Empower, which is part of the outlawed Bersih 2.0 coalition, had helped collect funds from the public, the Selangor state government and other local NGOs for the gathering.
She said the money the group received from two US organisations — the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Open Society Institute (OSI) — were for delineation projects unrelated to the march.