Word means ‘clean’ and is used by group planning banned rally against electoral corruption
Malaysian activists in Bersih (Clean) T-shirts at a 2007 rally. Authorities have been arresting people for wearing the shirts ahead of a protest against electoral corruption. Photograph: AP
Malaysian police have detained 14 opposition activists for wearing T-shirts promoting a planned rally against alleged electoral abuses.
It is the latest attempt by authorities to deter citizens from marching in Kuala Lumpur on 9 July in what the opposition hopes will be Malaysia’s biggest protest in nearly four years.
The activists are demanding that authorities overhaul voter lists, introduce transparent procedures for ballots to be counted and make other policy changes ahead of national elections widely expected by mid-2012. Government officials say current electoral laws are fair enough.
Authorities have arrested nearly 100 activists in cities across the country since Friday. Some were handing out leaflets linked to the planned demonstration, while others were travelling to publicity events. More than half have been freed.
Police in northern Perak state on Wednesday detained 14 people wearing yellow T-shirts with the Malay-language word «bersih,» meaning «clean». Bersih is the name of a group of opposition-backed activists organising next month’s rally.
Hishammuddin Hussein, the home minister, said the arrests were justified, noting that the planned rally had been banned because authorities believed it was an opposition attempt to create chaos on the streets and undermine the government.
«The Bersih T-shirt is related to an illegal assembly, then whatever they are wearing is illegal,» Hishammuddin was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider independent news website.
The Bersih group said in an statement posted online that police also confiscated T-shirts and leaflets from its headquarters on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
Officials say 30 activists who have remained in custody since Saturday are being investigated for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government and spread communist ideologies. Opposition parties accuse the government of trying to tarnish the public reputation of the activists.
Amnesty International Malaysia has said the government should uphold the people’s right to peaceful gatherings and not make arbitrary mass arrests.