A total of 31 individuals were taken into custody at Dang Wangi police station last night after being dispersed from Dataran Merdeka where they had gathered for a vigil in memory of all those who died of Covid-19 thus far.
The incident came to light last night after Nalina Nair went live on Instagram, recording the distressing events of the arrest, which caught the attention of outraged netizens.
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They were there for a “candlelight vigil” and memorial service for those who died of Covid-19. The rally organised by Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR), the same group which organised the #Lawan rally last month, was scheduled to start at 8pm.
However, it is learnt that the organisers decided to call off the event at the eleventh hour. Despite this, some people turned up as they were unaware that the gathering was called off.
this is happening right now. attendees who made a peaceful vigil to pay respects for the 13 thousand people who passed away due to covid got arrested and DRAGGED into a black maria. media was chased away and they are not allowed to document this #lawan #lawanintimidasi pic.twitter.com/VpjxfjBrjx
— elle #Lawan (@elrynnaa) August 19, 2021
Police initially requested and seized the participants’ identification cards. Several police officers were heard telling the participants to follow them to Dang Wangi police station for “documentation purposes”.
The participants repeatedly demanded that the police state whether they were under arrest, but their questions were ignored. Under the law, it is illegal to arrest a person without giving a reason.
Police then acted to drag and lift those who refused to move. One officer was heard saying, “If you don’t cooperate, then we will arrest you.”
And now this?
— Elisa Shafiqah #Lawan 🇲🇾🌺🏴 (@elisa_shafiqah) August 19, 2021
Many of them were then physically dragged into the waiting Black Marias, after verbal altercations between the vigil participants and police personnel on-site.
At Dang Wangi, a group of lawyers gathered and waited to be allowed access to their clients. It is understood that police had seized mobile phones belonging to the participants, restricting their access to the lawyers present. The activists were denied access to their constitutional rights to legal representation.
However, KL police chief Datuk Azmi Abu Kassim has denied the matter. When asked by reporters if lawyers were prevented from seeing participants of the rally, he replied, “Not true”.
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Police detained 17 men and 14 women and took them to the Dang Wangi headquarters at 8.40PM. Among those who were in police custody are #Lawan organiser Mohammad Asraf Sharaf, Undi18 co-founder Qyira Yusri and Misi Solidariti founder, Sarah Irdina Mohamad Ariff.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim shared his sentiment, urging police to release the participants immediately.
— Anwar Ibrahim (@anwaribrahim) August 19, 2021
In a statement, electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 called it an “abuse of power” and “unprofessional conduct” by the police.
“The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. The police, as the law enforcers, must respect and uphold the highest law of the land,” it said.
Bersih 2.0 condemns the police high-handedness and brutality and call for the release of all participants of the memorial service of Covid-19 victims held at Dataran Merdeka tonight.
Photo credit: Shafwan Zaidon (photo 1) pic.twitter.com/MgkoTFe5Cp
— BERSIH 2.0 (@bersih2) August 19, 2021
In a separate statement, over 40 organisations and prominent individuals, including Suaram, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and lawyer-human rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan, said the participants were exercising their right to peaceful assembly and should not be intimidated and arrested.
They stressed that such an action by the authorities was uncalled for.
“It is completely unnecessary and disproportionate. It is also a violation of the participants’ right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression by arresting them and carting them away in Black Marias.
“We stand against the use of the authorities to silence dissent and criticism. We stand with the young people and our colleagues who have been arrested for expressing the nation’s sorrow,” the statement said.
While the fiasco was ongoing, many supporters stood in solidarity with the arrested activists and were seen waving black flags, holding up signs that read “Lawan! Kerajaan Gagal” and holding lit candles.
It was reported that by 12:25am, 9 activists were released from IPD Dang Wangi and some were fined RM2,000 for assembling in the area.
UPDATE AT 11.55 PM
Approximately four activists have exited IPD Dang Wangi – one of them being an @UNDI18MY team member.
Our teammate specifically was compounded RM2000 for assembling at alleged ‘kawasan tempatan jangkitan’. pic.twitter.com/DPGGb5mtWJ
— Helter Skelter 🏴 (@Roshinee_M) August 19, 2021
After approximately 4 hours, all who were arrested were finally released at around 1am, after lawyers were allowed to enter the premises.
— Michelle Yesudas 🏴 (@MichelleYesudas) August 19, 2021
Watch one of the participants giving a statement after the participants were released in the video below: