Two women online journalists were sexually harassed and heckled while reporting on counter rallies by pro-government Red Shirts in Kuala Lumpur on 19 November 2016.
According to the reporters, the harassment occurred at Padang Merbok, where they were “harassed and almost groped” by the Red Shirts who were mostly men.
The Red Shirts were holding counter rallies against the fifth Bersih rally which demonstrated popular disenchantment over the 1MDB corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Malay Mail Online senior correspondent P. Yiswaree said she felt “really terrified and was momentarily unable to do (her) job” as one of the Red Shirt members followed her after being verbally abused by the group.
Yiswaree said that the Red Shirts also harassed another journalist. But concerned bystanders whisked them away to prevent the incident from escalating.
In a separate incident, several members of the crowd hurled racial slurs such as “Chinese pig” at unspecified persons, which prompted one woman photographer to immediately leave the scene.
Pro-government groups who call themselves “Red Shirts” came together at various points of the city to oppose the Bersih rally last Saturday. Red Shirt contingents are usually led by members of the government ruling party Barisan Nasional coalition. On the other hand, Bersih, the Malay word for “clean”, is a movement that organized street protests in the past five years for free and fair elections, good governance, and genuine democracy.
Incidents of harassment of journalists blotted the otherwise peaceful conduct of the Bersih 5 rally. Generally, the media and journalists were free to report incidents and had access to information related to this issue. As in the previous years, pro-government television stations and newspapers endorsed government messages that attacked rally organizers and supporters, while downplaying public support for the movement.
In October, Red Shirt groups assaulted a group of The Star and Malaysiakini journalists covering Bersih-related events, according to news reports.
In the lead up to the Bersih 5 rally, Red Shirts also held two protests two weeks ago against the online news portal Malaysiakini, in a series of legal and physical harassment incidents against the outlet perceived by government as pro-opposition.
“Leaders of Red Shirts rallies must tell their members to stop harassing journalists, who are simply doing their jobs,” said Edgardo Legaspi, SEAPA executive director.
“Harassment of journalists only gives their group a bad image because of the racist and sexist nature of their heckling,” he added.
“Government authorities must condemn and investigate these incidents of harassment and intimidation against women journalists covering red shirt rallies,” Legaspi said.