Empty threat? Malaysian gov warns students not to attend Bersih rallies in Australia

MALAYSIAN students won’t be flouting any laws in Australia if they attend the Bersih rallies taking place in Melbourne and other states tomorrow, but they could face repercussions back home, says Melbourne University law expert Dr Amanda Whiting.

On June 24, the Malaysian government issued a statement warning students not to attend the Bersih rallies in Australia, threatening to “co-operate with the Australian authorities to take appropriate action in accordance with applicable law”.

Dr Whiting, who is the Associate Director for Malaysia at the Asian Law Centre, dismissed the warning as “pure intimidation”.

“Australia is a democratic country and we respect freedom of speech, which is a common feature of Australian life. Malaysian students won’t be breaking any Australian laws simply by standing on the pavement outside the Malaysian consulate by expressing their displeasure on the current political situation in Malaysia, not unless they break any ordinary laws, such as breaking windows,” she said.

“But that doesn’t mean Malaysian students won’t be at risk when they go home,” Dr Whiting said.

She said the danger of Malaysian authorities being able to identify students was a very real possibility.

“Who can predict, given the erratic way the Malaysian government has been acting?”

Meanwhile, organisers of the Bersih rallies in Australia have urged Malaysians overseas on Twitter to “take action despite your fear” and not let “the imaginary bogeymen get to you”.

Bersih 2.0, also known as the “Walk for Democracy”, is a demonstration calling for free and fair elections in Malaysia organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih).

The first Bersih rally was held in November 2007, as Malaysian opposition political parties and non-government organisations (NGOs) came together in the lead up to the election that year to fight for clean and fair elections.

The lead-up to tomorrow’s demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur has been fraught with difficulties. But Malaysians all around the world are gathering in a show of solidarity, as rallies will be staged concurrently in more than 30 cities tomorrow.

In Melbourne, the rally will begin at 1.30pm at Federation Square. Bersih rallies will also take place in Perth, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart tomorrow.


You can also follow the developments in Australia on Twitter @BERSIH2oz.

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