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Authorities Must Free Malaysian Activist

Human Rights Watch today urged all parties to the conflict in East Timor to respect humanitarian law after reported abuses by both the Indonesian army and East Timorese independence supporters near the town of Alas, Manufahi district, East Timor.

Tian Chua, chairperson of the Coalition of Peoples' Democracy (Gagasan Demokrasi Rakyat) and a member of the human rights organization Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), was arrested on evening of November 21 as he left the site of an earlier opposition political demonstration--an "illegal assembly" in the government's view--in Kampung Baru, an area of Kuala Lumpur.

According to witnesses, Tian was not present during the demonstration itself but was arrested as he was walking away from the Kampung Baru mosque with a journalist and a diplomat almost two hours after the gathering was dispersed by police using a water cannon. Witnesses accused arresting officers, including five plainclothes police, of singling Tian out for arrest and punching him in the stomach at least twice.

Demonstrations in support of reformasi or reform, a campaign associated with detained former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, have become a weekly Saturday evening event in Kampung. While largely peaceful, some have involved bottle-throwing and other violence.

"At the very least, Tian Chua has a right to be brought before a magistrate within twenty-four hours, according to the Malaysian constitution," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "We are concerned by the extension of his remand detention but also by violations of the right to freedom of assembly in Kuala Lumpur." Jones noted that Human Rights Watch had no problem in principle with government requirements that demonstrators have a permit unless the ability to obtain a permit depended on the content or message of the demonstration. Since September, it has been virtually impossible for supporters of the reform movement to obtain a permit.

Saturday's arrest was Tian Chua's second in three months. He was arrested and beaten on September 28 for taking part in anti-government protests.

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