Malaysia: Authorities arrest 80 writers, activists, members of opposition during protests

6 May, 2009 - CIJ raises concern over clampdown on anti-government expression

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is deeply worried that the new
administration under Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has begun a swoop of
those publicly opposed to the takeover of the northern state of Perak by
the ruling Federal government Barisan Nasional.

According to report, the government has so far arrested close to 80 people
involved in organising and participating in a protest campaign, which
includes writers, opposition members of Parliament and activists. Among the
80, 60 were arrested on 6 May in Ipoh, capital of the Perak state where a
protest gathering was held. The sequence of actions betrays premeditation
on the side of the powers-that-be and this raises worry that the clampdown
will be the first of more to come.

Among those arrested on 7 May in Ipoh were eight parliamentarians from the
opposition pact Pakatan, Dr D. Jeyakumar, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Salahuddin
Ayub, Zuraida Kamaruddin, Ng Chin Tsai, Khoo Poay Tiong , Jenice Lee and
Teo Kok Seong. They were released at about 4:30 p.m. (local time) the same
day. But the rest are still being held at the Sungai Senam police station.

The slew of arrests started on 5 May when police first targeted Wong Chin
Huat, an academic and writer. Wong is the spokesperson for the Coalition
for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH), which initiated a campaign dubbed
'1BlackMalaysia' calling Malaysians to wear black on the day the Perak
State Legislative Assembly was to reconvene on 7 May. Wong was arrested at
his home and police obtained a remand order against him until 8 May. Wong
chairs the Writers' Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) and has written
extensively against the undemocratic means of gaining power through the
crossover of elected representatives. Responding to Wong's call, Inspector
General of Police Musa Hassan warned members of the public from "creating
tension" by wearing black on 7 May.

Then on 6 May, Vice President of the Pan-Malayan Islamic Party (PAS)
Mohamad Sabu and a supreme council member of the People's Justice Party
(PKR), Badrul Hisham Shaharin, were nabbed. Though police refused to
divulge information on the arrests, they are strongly believed to be linked
to Mohamad Sabu's plan for an organised mass prayer in Perak on 7 May and
Badrul Hisham's role in commemorating the birthday of a Mongolian woman,
Altantuya Shaaribuu, murdered three years ago, whom many speculate had
links with the current prime minister. The death of Altantuya, like the
Perak issue, has also been a taboo subject since the court proceedings
failed to adequately answer the connection between the murdered Mongolian
and Najib's aide, Abdul Razak Baginda. Further, the court made a
questionable ruling of acquitting Abdul Razak from the charge of abetting
the murder and thereby not establishing the mastermind of the murder.

On the evening of 6 May, police arrested 14 people who attended a
candlelight vigil in front of the police station in Kuala Lumpur to show
solidarity for Wong. Those arrested included the editor of PKR's "Suara
Keadilan", Law Teck Hao, columnist Josh Hong, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor
Chinese Assembly Hall leader Liau Kok Fah, two from human rights group
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) John Liu and Temme Lee, and parliamentarian
Teo Nie Ching. All of them were later released without charge.

The swoop indicates that Najib's administration is far from sincere about
instituting reforms and allowing greater openness despite his call for
"OneMalaysia". With the absence of any law reform so far, institutions such
as the police force, the mainstream media and to some extent the judiciary
have demonstrated that they remain shackled and firmly pro-Federal
government. CIJ is worried that this means that the Barisan Nasional's
intent is to re-consolidate its power by repressing the voices of critics
and civil society in a wide-scale manner.

Updates the government intimidation case: