Saturday, September 13, 2008

Malaysian Opposition Condemn Arrests Amid Government Clampdown

Malaysian Opposition Condemn Arrests Amid Government Clampdown

By Angus Whitley

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Malaysian politicians and lawyers condemned the arrest of a legislator and two reporters under a law allowing indefinite detention, in the government's biggest security clampdown since losing support in March elections.

Police late yesterday arrested a female politician from the opposition Democratic Action Party under the Internal Security Act, the party's leader, Lim Kit Siang, said in a statement. That followed the detention of an anti-government blogger and the arrest of a reporter for a Chinese newspaper.

``We're absolutely horrified,'' said Ambiga Sreenevasan, chairwoman of the Malaysian Bar Council. The government should ``abolish the ISA and release them immediately.''

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who this year led his ruling coalition to its worst election result in five decades, is attempting to subdue growing racial unease in the multi- ethnic country. Anwar Ibrahim's opposition has pledged to scrap Malaysia's system of preferences for the majority Malays, and claims it can gather enough support to control parliament.

Malaysian Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who is in charge of domestic security, and Ismail Omar, the deputy inspector- general of police, didn't reply to messages left on their mobile phones. Syed Hamid is due to hold a press conference today at 4:30 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur.

The opposition lawmaker, Teresa Kok, was arrested outside her home in Kuala Lumpur shortly before midnight, DAP leader Lim said. He didn't give a reason for her detention.

Racial unease escalated last month after a politician from the United Malays National Organisation, was reported as saying that ethnic Chinese are ``squatters'' in Malaysia.


Under a 37-year-old program to reduce poverty among the majority Malays in Malaysia, Chinese and Indian minorities have to pay more for homes, gain better grades to enter university and compete for jobs after Malay allocations have been filled.

The Malay politician whose remarks were reported, Ahmad Ismail, was suspended on Sept. 10 for three years from UMNO, which is Abdullah's party. Tan Hoon Cheng, the reporter who wrote the story, was arrested yesterday, her newspaper said.

Objections to the police crackdown have extended to within government. Ng Yen Yen, minister for women, family and community development and a former deputy finance minister, said in a statement today she was ``dismayed, disappointed and shocked'' by the reporter's arrest.

``When the ISA now faces improper implementation, we should really respond to the public view to review and even abolish the ISA if it doesn't serve its purpose,'' said Ng, who is a member of the Malaysian Chinese Association, one of the minority parties in the National Front coalition.

Newspapers Questioned

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, a blogger who runs the Malaysia Today Web site, was arrested yesterday for articles that criticized the country's leadership and some that were allegedly disrespectful of Islam, said his wife, Marina Lee Abdullah. Malays are by law born as Muslims in Malaysia.

Raja Petra's Malaysia Today site, where some readers have left anti-government comments, was blocked by authorities last month, a ban that was lifted yesterday, the Star said.

The arrest took place the same day that three Malaysian newspapers were sent letters by the government asking them to explain some of their articles, according to the Star newspaper.

Malaysia last year used the ISA, which allows suspects to be held without trial, to detain five ethnic Indian activists, who campaigned for a greater say for that racial grouping in Malaysia. Those arrest orders were signed by Abdullah.

Teoh Ai Hua, a spokesman for Abdullah, said the premier doesn't plan to make any statement today.

Lim, the DAP leader, questioned whether yesterday's arrests are part of a broader crackdown similar to an operation 21 years ago when more than 100 people, including Lim, were arrested and held under the ISA.

``Is Malaysia in the grip of another ISA madness?'' he said in a statement.

The developments are an attempt to ``subvert the freedom of speech,'' Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition alliance, said in a statement late yesterday. He called for blogger Raja Petra to be released and any allegations be resolved by the legal process.

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