CHR's Gascon held at Malaysian airport for 6 hours
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Chito Gascon expected to breeze through immigration counters upon arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Friday, September 1, given he has been to Malaysia several times.
Imagine his surprise when airport authorities barred him from entering the country where he is scheduled to speak at a Southeast Asian conference on democracy.
"I was surprised because I'm a regular visitor to Malaysia for many, many years," he told Rappler on the sidelines of the conference on Saturday, September 2. "In fact, at one time, I lived here for two months' time. No problems ever. I've always enjoyed coming to Kuala Lumpur."
He denied, however, that the incident was rooted in the tense situation between him and the Philippine government.
The CHR, tasked to investigate human rights violations committed by the state, has been the target of President Rodrigo Duterte's tirades hit amid criticisms of his war on drugs.
"I don't think it had anything to do with it," he clarified. "It has something to do with this one, the central dynamics [in Malaysia]."
Authorities told Gascon that he was barred from entering because he participated in an "illegal assembly" allegedly organized by Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil (The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) in 2016.
"[A policeman] said, 'Sir, you cannot come in because you participated in the illegal assembly with BERSIH,'" he recalled. "That was the reason. I was perplexed so I asked him, what do you mean? He didn't have any other information."
The assembly in Malaysia the police was referring to was apparently organized on behalf of the May 18 Memorial Foundation, a Korea-based group which commemorates the Gwangju Uprising in 1980.
Maria Chin Abdullah of BERSIH was the recipient of an award given by the group during the 2016 conference.
"It came back to me that I was invited to an event but that was not organized by BERSIH but the May 18 Human Rights Foundation," Gascon explained. "They invited people from the field, and I was the chair of the CHR so I came."
Not against the law
In a Facebook post, Abdullah also insisted that the 2016 conference was not against the law. She was not allowed to go out of Malaysia so the May 18 foundation decided to bring the award to her.
"It certainly was not an illegal assembly," she said. "Looks like after the feel good SEA Games, the government now comes for the kill. Seems like from now on all those who had attended BERSIH's related events will be banned from entering."
Gascon, however, said he was not detained and was in fact treated pleasantly by authorities.
At 11:30 pm, he was eventually allowed entry after representations were made by the conference organizers, Suhakam and Kofi Anan Foundation, and an order from the Malaysian deputy prime minister himself. – with reports from Jodesz Gavilan and Natashya Gutierrez/Rappler.com
Inside Track is Rappler's intelligencer on people, events, places and everything of public interest. It's a take-off from Newsbreak's Inside Track section. Contributions are most welcome. Just send bits of information to email@example.com.
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