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GOVERNMENT USES SECURITY ACT TO SILENCE CRITICS

A prominent blogger, a journalist and an opposition politician were arrested under Malaysia's draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) last week, in what some IFEX members and activists are calling 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 12 September, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and other IFEX members.

Tan Hoon Cheng, a journalist for "Sin Chew Daily", a Chinese-language newspaper that had recently 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, says SEAPA.

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", reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to local news reports, Tan was released the following day but the others are still being held.

A 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.

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, reports SEAPA. 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 RSF, SEAPA and others are calling for the overturning of the ISA.

Sizeable opposition demonstrations have been staged in major cities since 13 September in protest against the use of the ISA. On 15 September, more than 10,000 people gathered in a Kuala Lumpur sports stadium to demand the ISA's repeal and Raja Petra's release, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF). RSF says the Minister of Legal Affairs, Zaid Ibrahim, resigned in protest against the use of the act.

The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was humiliated in the March elections and is now threatened by the opposition's plans, says http://www.Malaysiakini.com , the country's leading online news source.

The news site added that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is believed to have launched the crackdown to bolster his position within UMNO. He is facing increasing calls from party leaders to step down earlier than 2010, the year he said he would hand over power to his deputy.

Visit these links:
- SEAPA: http://tinyurl.com/3mw5mt
- CIJ: http://www.cijmalaysia.org/
- RSF, including video appeal by Raja Petra's wife: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28558
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/49vdow
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/6jewrf
- International Federation of Journalists: http://tinyurl.com/5n3l8l
(17 September 2008)

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