Malaysian poll campaign speech: lawmaker, two journalists heldSeptember 13th, 2008 - 5:00 pm ICT by IANS
Kuala Lumpur, Sep 13 (IANS) A Malaysian lawmaker and two journalists have been detained in connection with allegedly racist remarks made during the campaign for the parliamentary by-election that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim won last month. The detentions under the stringent Internal Security Act (ISA) Saturday provoked a reaction from the United States that summoned the Malaysian Charge d’affaires in Washington and protested “curbs on media freedom”.
The arrests have caused angry reaction from media, opposition parties and non-government organisations.
Those arrested are Malaysia Today news portal editor Raja Petra Kamarudin - detained earlier in another case and on bail - and two women, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok and Sin Chew Daily reporter Tan Hoon Cheng.
Under the ISA, the police can hold them for 60 days without trial.
The first person to be picked up Friday night was Kamarudin, 58, from his house here, followed by Tan, 32, who was arrested in Penang. Teresa, the lawmaker, 43, was detained as she was on her way home in a car, The Star said.
The three were picked up under Section 73(1) of the ISA, for allegedly being a threat to security, peace and public order.
The government said Tan, an ethnic Chinese, was being held to ensure her personal safety.
The arrests have been made in connection with the speech by Ahmed Ismail, a leader of the ruling United Malaysian National Organisation (UMNO), who has since been suspended by the party. The speech contained allegedly racist remarks.
The police last week took note of the complaints made by the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) and several Muslim bodies against Raja Petra for allegedly insulting the Malays, Muslims and Islam, media reports said Saturday.
In a statement, Deputy Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar said Kamarudin was arrested based on surveillance that showed that he was involved in activities that could cause unrest among the multi-racial and multi-religious society of the country.
Malaysia, with a muslim Malay majority, has 33 percent ethnic Chinese and eight percent Indian population.
While the woman lawmaker was detained following a complaint by a local mosque, the reporter was held for reporting the controversial speech.
Two persons who had vouched for the accuracy of Tan’s report had gone into hiding.
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar admitted that the decision to detain people and issue show cause letters would be unpopular and would be criticised but it had to be done.
“While we may want to be popular, freedom without responsibilities has ramifications.
“We have to take action to protect the wishes of the majority,” he said.
The arrests have been condemned by the Bar Council and by the Press Institute of Malaysia, who have protested curbs on media freedom.
In George Town, Penang State, Chief Minister Lim Guang Eng joined other politicians, journalists, students and members of non-governmental organisations in a candlelight vigil outside the state police headquarters to show support for the arrested journalists.
Small groups gathered outside the police headquarters early Friday evening but the number swelled quickly as more people got wind of Tan’s arrest.