Malaysia holds jour­nal­ists un­der sedi­tion law

The China Post - - GUIDE POST - BY DAN MARTIN

Malaysian po­lice de­tained a prom­i­nent pub­lisher and a web­site edi­tor on sedi­tion charges Tues­day, the lat­est tar­gets in a mount­ing tally of ar­rests that a se­nior op­po­si­tion politi­cian com­pared to an in­fa­mous 1987 po­lit­i­cal crack­down.

Ho Kay Tat, head of The Edge me­dia group, was ar­rested along with Ja­habar Sadiq, chief edi­tor of The Malaysian In­sider news por­tal which is owned by The Edge, the por­tal said.

The lat­est de­ten­tions fol­lowed the ar­rests of scores of peo­ple in re­cent weeks for sedi­tion or for as­sem­bly vi­o­la­tions re­lated to a se­ries of demon­stra­tions de­mand- ing the re­lease of jailed op­po­si­tion leader An­war Ibrahim or other anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

Three other Malaysian In­sider ed­i­tors had al­ready been ar­rested on Mon­day over a seem­ingly un­con­tro­ver­sial news re­port in­volv­ing the Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­try’s roy­alty.

The Edge, how­ever, has also pub­lished a string of re­ports on the murky deal­ings of a gov­ern­men­towned in­vest­ment com­pany whose board is chaired by Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak.

Those re­ports — in­clud­ing ques­tions over the where­abouts of huge sums of money — have stirred public out­rage and deeply tar­nished Na­jib’s im­age.

In a state­ment is­sued be­fore his ar­rest, Ja­habar said the po­lice ac­tions “ap­pear to go be­yond just our re­portage” on the story con­cern­ing the sul­tans.

“The Malaysian In­sider will con­tinue to re­port with­out fear or fa­vor de­spite th­ese ar­rests. It is busi­ness as usual,” he said.

Fac­ing slid­ing voter sup­port over re­pres­sive tac­tics and cor­rup­tion in his rul­ing coali­tion, Na­jib promised in 2011 to end the regime’s au­thor­i­tar­ian ways.

But he made an abrupt U-turn af­ter a fur­ther set­back in 2013 elec­tions in which the op­po­si­tion won a ma­jor­ity of votes cast, launch­ing a crack­down on free ex­pres­sion in which dozens of op- po­si­tion politi­cians, aca­demics and ac­tivists were nabbed last year on sedi­tion and other charges.

Most spent no more than a few hours in cus­tody be­fore be­ing re­leased.

Crit­ics of An­war Jail­ing

A new wave of ar­rests has tar­geted crit­ics of the Fe­bru­ary jail­ing of An­war.

An­war was im­pris­oned for five years on the charge of sodom­iz­ing a male aide in 2008, which he says was fab­ri­cated by the gov­ern­ment to halt the op­po­si­tion’s elec­toral mo­men­tum.

Na­jib’s of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, but the pre­mier said last week that free- dom must have lim­its.

Brid­get Welsh, a Malaysia pol­i­tics an­a­lyst with Na­tional Tai­wan Uni­ver­sity, said the ar­rests were a sign of Na­jib’s po­lit­i­cal weak­ness, with the pre­mier be­lieved to be un­der pres­sure from rul­ing-party hard-lin­ers.

“They are try­ing to cre­ate a cli­mate of fear, si­lence their crit­ics and divide the op­po­si­tion,” Welsh said.

Po­lice said the lat­est ar­rests stem from a Malaysian In­sider re­port last week.

The re­port said a coun­cil of the coun­try’s nine fig­ure­head state sul­tans op­posed an Is­lamic op­po­si­tion party’s pro­posal for tough sharia crim­i­nal pun­ish­ments.

Au­thor­i­ties have not ex­plained how the re­port, which the coun­cil has claimed is false, could be con­sid­ered sedi­tious, but Malaysia has strict rules against in­sult­ing the sul­tans.

Se­nior op­po­si­tion fig­ure Lim Kit Siang called the re­cent spate of ar­rests a reign of “ter­ror” that evoked the co­or­di­nated 1987 ar­rests of 106 ac­tivists, op­po­si­tion politi­cians, in­tel­lec­tu­als and other regime crit­ics.

“The ques­tion can be le­git­i­mately asked whether the coun­try is see­ing a re­play of the (1987) drag­net,” Lim, who was him­self ar­rested at the time, said in a state­ment.

That episode was far harsher than the cur­rent crack­down.

Like Lim, many of those ar­rested in 1987 spent more than a year in detention with­out charge. His­to­ri­ans say the af­fair marked a key ac­cel­er­a­tion of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule in the coun­try.

Press groups de­nounced the jour­nal­ist ar­rests, say­ing the ap­par­ently in­nocu­ous sul­tan re­port was no grounds for sedi­tion charges, which are pun­ish­able by up to three years in jail.

Malaysia’s Cen­tre for In­de­pen­dent Jour­nal­ism and the Southeast Asian Press Al­liance, in a joint state­ment, called the ar­rests “an as­sault on me­dia free­dom and an act of in­tim­i­da­tion” by au­thor­i­ties, and de­manded the jour­nal­ists’ im­me­di­ate re­lease.

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