The Malaysian government on Friday blocked websites of a civil society movement that has organized massive protests this weekend calling for the ouster of Malaysian Prime Najib Razak.
Razak also spoke publically for the first time to criticize the Bersih demonstration, scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Saturday in three cities in Malaysia and 60 other cities worldwide.
All three Malaysian cities – Kuala Lumpur, and Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo – have banned or discouraged the rally. Malaysian leaders say the protest conflicts with Malaysia’s National Day, Aug. 31.
“There may be differences of opinion and belief among us, but the National Day should not be made a stage for political disputes,” Razak said Friday in a blog post. “If they want to gather, they should pick a time and place that does not cause provocation.”
Bersih was founded in 2007 by a broad alliance of civil society groups to demand transparency in the Malaysian electoral system. But it has been openly calling for an end toNajib’s term in office in the wake of a scandal involving millions of dollars deposited in his personal bank accounts.
“Step Down, Najib!” said a statement issued by the group in mid-August announcing details of the 34-hour demonstration, dubbed Bersih 4.0 because it is the fourth mass action staged by the group. “Bersih” means “clean” in Malay.
“The people must rise up. Rise up not to overthrow the government with violence or force. Rise up to reject corrupt leadership and a political system that produces corrupt leadership,” the statement said.
As of 6 p.m. Friday (local time), people within Malaysia could no longer access four Bersih websites, including bersih.org and globalbersih.org . “Thus far, I was told four sites have been blocked,” Communications and Multimedia Minister Saleh Said Keruak told Bernama.
On Thursday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission had threatened to block “any websites or news portal found to be promoting, disseminating information and encouraging the public to participate in the illegal rally as such action could be detrimental to the country.”
But Saleh said Friday that no news portal had been found to be promoting the event, “so there was no violation of law, and there is no reason for news portal operators to be worried.”
Bersih has always called for peaceful protest, but past Bersih rallies have typically been marred by stone-throwing and car burnings. Bersih leaders have disavowed the violence, claiming it was instigated by police and government plants.
Officials with the Malaysian army have said they would “interfere” in this weekend’s rally if it became violent and the government declared a state of emergency.
Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said he would “not reject the offer by the army if the country needs it,” Radio Television Malaysia reported.
In a chilling turn of events, an 87-second video published on YouTube late Thursday threatened violence at the Bersih rally on a par with the Aug. 17 bombing of a beloved Hindu shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 and injured 125.
Titled “We Will Blast Malaysia,” the video visually links Bersih activists, who traditionally wear yellow, with the yellow-clad main suspect in the Bangkok bombing, seen on security video leaving a backpack at the shrine moments before the explosion.
Flashing the words “We all Yellow,” the video threatens to “shows Najib what we can do” and concludes with the words “Wait Our Blast at Bersih 4.0.”
It purports to be the product of “Anonymous Malaysia,” a hacktivist group that had earlier threatened to launch “internet warfare” against the Malaysian government to force Najib to resign and submit to corruption investigations – in parallel with the Bersih 4.0 rally.
Bersih repudiated the threat at the time and spoke out strongly against the latest threat.
Investigators have never linked Bersih activists to the Bangkok bombing, and it was not immediately possible to verify that the same group uploaded both videos.
“Anonymous Malaysia needs to be aware that the Bersih 4.0 demonstration is a peaceful demonstration, it does not allow violence, in fact we have asked authorities to detain anyone who is carrying out violence or throws rocks while the demonstration is under way,” Bersih leader Maria Chin Abdullah said.
“I appeal to Anonymous Malaysia not to carry out this threat … the people of Malaysia are peace-loving, this demonstration will take place safely,” she told BenarNews.
IGP Abu Bakar said Malaysian authorities were taking the video threat seriously.
“We are investigating this matter. I don’t need to say if we already know for sure or not [who disseminated it]. What is certain, we see this as a serious threat. We don’t take such a threat lightly,” Bernama quoted him as saying.