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

The swoop indicates that Najib's administration is far from sincere about instituting reforms and allowing greater openness despite his call for "OneMalaysia".

(CIJ, interim member/IFEX) - 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 reports, 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:

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