Sep 13, 2008

Malaysia cracks down as opposition bids to seize power

Blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, Seputeh member of parliament Teresa Kok and a Sin Chiew Daily News reporter were arrested Friday under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
Raja Petra was picked up from his house in Sungai Buloh at 1.10pm, Kok in front of her condominium here at 11.20pm while the Sin Chew Daily News reporter, Tan Hoon Cheng, was picked up from her house in Bukit Mertajam in Penang at 8.30pm.

KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysian authorities Friday arrested an opposition politician, a prominent blogger and a journalist, according to officials and reports, in a crackdown as the opposition plots to seize power.

The three were all believed to be held under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows for detention without trial and has been used against government opponents in the past.

Political observers said they feared the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which was humiliated in March elections and is now threatened by the opposition's plans, was planning a repeat of an infamous 1987 crackdown.

"Is Malaysia in the grip of another ISA madness, akin to Operation Lalang 21 years ago when there were mass arrests under the ISA and closure of three newspapers?" said opposition lawmaker Lim Kit Siang who was jailed in that campaign.

Malaysia's leading blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who has targeted government figures on his website "Malaysia Today", was the first to be taken into custody.

Raja Petra has already been charged with sedition and defamation after linking Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife to the sensational murder of a Mongolian woman.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar justified the arrest, saying the offending articles had insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad -- an offence in predominantly Muslim Malaysia.

"We have called him in many times and advised him on his statements but he continued until he posed a threat," he said.

Tan Hoon Cheng, a reporter for the Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily News, was also arrested after reporting on an outburst from a ruling party member who called the ethnic Chinese community "squatters".

Her report triggered a major row in the coalition which is made up of race-based parties. The leading party, which represents majority Muslim Malays, was forced to punish the member responsible.

"Her colleagues from Sin Chew Daily are shocked about the arrest," the newspaper said in a statement. "Sin Chew Daily will stand firmly by our editorial position."

The Star daily's website also reported that Teresa Kok, a lawmaker from the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party which is a member of the opposition alliance, had also been arrested under the ISA.

It did not give further details, but Kok has been defending herself against allegations that she complained about the noise of morning prayers at a mosque in her electorate. She has said the accusation is "preposterous".

The Internal Security Act, which human rights groups have pushed to have abolished, allows for renewable two-year periods of detention without trial and is normally used against suspected terrorists.

Malaysia's opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim who is plotting to topple the government as soon as next week, condemned the move to deploy the law as "draconian and unjustified."

The Centre for Independent Journalism said the measures "bear a disturbing resemblance to the period in the lead-up to the Operasi Lalang in 1987" when dozens of activists, artists, academics and politicians were detained.

"Both incidents are similar in that it relates to ongoing political crisis within UMNO, but manifested as alleged racial tension by the government," it said in a statement.

Three Malaysian newspapers -- the Sin Chew Daily News, The Sun which is a free English-language daily, and Suara Keadilan which is published by the opposition -- were also Friday reportedly threatened with suspension.

The Star's website said the three had been issued with "show cause" letters from the home ministry, requiring them to explain their actions or face suspension.

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