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Eighty arrested in standoff over control of Perak state

Last week the Malaysian government under new Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak arrested nearly 80 writers, opposition members and activists who were protesting the takeover of the northern state of Perak by the ruling federal government coalition Barisan Nasional, reports IFEX interim member the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Malaysia.

The slew of arrests started on 5 May when police first targeted academic and writer Wong Chin Huat. As spokesperson for the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH), Wong helped initiate the "1BlackMalaysia" campaign, 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 effectively put out of commission when police obtained a remand order against him until 8 May. Wong also chairs the Writers' Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) and has written extensively against the undemocratic means the ruling coalition has used to gain power.

CIJ said Wong's case was "an act of intimidation by the police against activists critical of the government. Citizens and interest groups have the right to express their political views and opinions without fear of persecution."

Sixty others were arrested on 6 May at a protest rally in Ipoh, capital of Perak, including eight parliamentarians from the opposition pact Pakatan. Another 14 people were detained for attending a candlelight vigil for Wong in front of a Kuala Lumpur police station.

The arrests come during an ongoing power struggle for the Perak state government. In a controversial move in February, the Sultan of Perak accepted the defection of three state assembly members from the opposition, which allowed the Barisan Nasional coalition to regain control - despite having lost the state in the 2008 general election. Barisan Nasional has also been accused of trying to shut down debate about the role of the monarchy.

CIJ says that without any law reforms, supposedly independent institutions such as the police force, the mainstream media and the judiciary remain shackled and are becoming "instruments to maintain the power of the ruling government."

Najib's actions "raise worry that the clampdown will be the first of more to come," warned CIJ.

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

  • CIJ condemns government's intimidation of media and electoral reform activist

    (CIJ, interim member/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemns the arrest and remand of media and electoral reform activist Wong Chin Huat on 5 May 2009 over his strong calls against the Barisan Nasional party's takeover of the state of Perak and refusal to call for new elections in the state following the political crisis that has been going on since February.

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