Malaysian politician, reporters detained under security law

Other News Materials 13 September 2008 07:54 (UTC +04:00)

Malaysian police have detained an opposition lawmaker, a local reporter and a controversial blogger under a draconian law that allows for indefinite detention without trial, sparking fears of a major government crackdown on dissent, officials confirmed Saturday, reported dpa.

Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin, who runs the popular Malaysia Today website known for its anti-government articles, detained on Friday at his home in the central Selangor state under the Internal Security Act (ISA), his wife told reporters.

Later Friday, police arrested Tan Chee Hoon, a reporter with the Chinese-language daily Sin Chew, in the northern Penang state after her paper was slammed by the government for carrying articles on sensitive race and religion-related issues.

Shortly before midnight, veteran opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok was detained near her home in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, said Lim Kit Siang, head of Kok's Democratic Action Party.

The arrests come amid rising tensions in local politics as Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi battles calls from within his own party to resign, while facing a threat by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to topple the government by September 16.

Opposition leaders and rights groups slammed the detentions as a crackdown on press freedom and human rights.

"The ISA is used to quash dissent and smother those who in exercising their right to free speech voice opinions contrary to the preferred views of the ruling clique," Anwar said in a statement.

"Invoking the ISA just days before September 16 is clearly an attempt to engineer an atmosphere of fear and instability that would justify the government's heavy-handed tactics against those aligned with the political opposition," he said.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar confirmed that Raja Petra had been detained as some of his articles were deemed a threat to national security and offensive to Islam, the official religion of the country.

Raja Petra, whose website and articles have a large following, was charged with sedition in May for allegedly implying that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was involved in the gruesome murder of a Mongolian woman.

He has been accused by the government in the past of spreading lies and false rumours in his often sensational articles. His arrest came one day after Malaysia's authorities lifted a two-week ban on the website.

Tan reported on comments made by a Malay Muslim ruling party politician last month who described ethnic Chinese minority as "immigrants."

Kok has allegedly complained about the noise of morning prayers from a mosque in her electorate.

On Friday, the Home Ministry also sent letters to three local newspapers, demanding an explanation why they published stories deemed sensitive, but declined to give further details on the nature of the alleged articles, officials said.

The widely criticized ISA, which was drafted almost 60 years ago under British colonial rule to fight a communist insurgency, allows for citizens to be detained without trial if they are believed to be a threat to security.

Critics have called for the law to be abolished, claiming the government is using it to shut out dissenting views in the name of preserving national security.