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Malayasia falls back on draconian security Act to silence journalists and bloggers

Malayasia falls back on draconian security Act to silence journalists, bloggers
In defence of free speech: An anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) activist shouts slogans in front of a poster of detained blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin in Kuala Lumpur September 21, 2008. The government came under intense pressure after the police arrested a blogger, a journalist and an opposition MP under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows indefinite detention without trial.Photo: Reuters / Zainal Abd Halim

The arrest of a prominent blogger and a journalist under Malaysia's draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) is being seen by free speech advocates as the start of a wider crackdown ahead of an anticipated opposition push to gain control of parliament.

Malaysia's leading blogger, Raja Petra Kamaruddin, a staunch government critic on his website Malaysia Today, was the first to be taken into custody on September 12. Tan Hoon Cheng, a journalist with Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily, a newspaper that covered a controversial outburst from a ruling party member who called the ethnic Chinese community "squatters", and Teresa Kok, a lawmaker from the Chinese-based DAP and deputy chief minister in Selangor, were also arrested under the ISA.

In a recent news story, Tan had cited an official in the Prime Minister's political party who described ethnic Chinese Malaysians as "power-hungry immigrants." Tan was released the following day but the others are still being held. Blogger and human rights lawyer Haris Ibrahim was also reportedly arrested after posting news about the arrests on his website, The People's Parliament, reports the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Malaysia.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) fears that more arrests are on the way. The measures "bear a disturbing resemblance to the period in the lead-up to the Operasi Lalang in 1987," says CIJ, when dozens of activists, artists, academics and politicians were detained. "Both incidents are similar in that it relates to the ongoing political crisis within UMNO (Malaysia's ruling party), but manifested as alleged racial tension by the government."

Just a week earlier, three Malaysian newspapers - the Sin Chew Daily, the Sun"and Suara Keadilan - were threatened with suspension. The 'IFEX Communiqué' recently published a story about how access to Raja Petra's website was blocked for a week on government orders.

The ISA allows for a person to be arrested without charge and to be held for 60 days without offering grounds for their detention. The Malaysian government has repeatedly used the law to silence government critics and political opponents. IFEX members Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), and others are calling for the overturning of the ISA.

Sizeable opposition demonstrations have been staged in major cities since September 13 in protest against the use of the ISA. On September 15, more than 10,000 people gathered in a Kuala Lumpur sports stadium to demand the ISA's repeal and Raja Petra's release. RSF says the Minister of Legal Affairs, Zaid Ibrahim, resigned in protest against the use of the act.

Date posted: September 22, 2008 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 766