Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua – an opposition member of the Malaysian Parliament – endured a trial which spanned five years, including appeals, after being charged with trespassing for failing to leave a police facility after being arrested and then released for participating in Bersih 3, a 2012 rally demanding free and fair elections in Malaysia. He was sentenced to one month in prison and fined 1,000 Malaysian ringgit by the Sessions Court in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, a judgment implemented today after Tian Chua withdrew his final appeal.
Speaking moments before his jailing, Tian Chua said that he would not be intimidated and urged Malaysians to stand firm and not bow to fear.
"It is a repressive situation in Malaysia, and going to prison is inevitable in such an environment. But don't be cowed by such tactics. My actions have shown that people in Malaysia will not let the threat of imprisonment stop their work for a better country," said the now-jailed parliamentarian.
Tian Chua is one of a number of victims of government persecution in Malaysia after close parliamentary elections in 2013. APHR called on the Malaysian government to cease its attacks on the opposition and government critics, and to ensure that upcoming elections, which must occur by August 2018, can take place in an environment conducive to a free and fair vote.
"The Malaysian government needs to respect the rights of all people – including opposition lawmakers – to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. It also must ensure an equal playing political field and promote an enabling environment for free and fair elections. That is the bedrock of any democracy and should not be compromised," said APHR Board Member Teddy Baguilat, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.
Tian Chua has two further convictions for alleged sedition and insulting a police officer. In total, he could face a further 3 months in prison and be fined an additional 4,800 ringgit, pending appeal of these two cases. If all charges are upheld, he could be barred from competing in the upcoming polls, as Malaysian law prevents anyone fined more than 2,000 ringgit or imprisoned for more than one year from contesting.
Fellow APHR members said that the case was of particular concern given the wider context of a growing number of lawmakers in Southeast Asia imprisoned on politically motivated charges.
"We're seeing an uptick in members of parliament in Southeast Asia jailed on dubious charges. It's a concerning signal of regimes' growing intolerance of opposition MPs," Rep. Baguilat said.