The calm before the storm

What’s goin’ on?


Sometimes you have to wonder what it’s all worth.

Sometimes you have to think of how much others have already suffered for the sake of freedom.

Sometimes you have to think of how much more they will have to suffer for the sake of freedom.

Sometimes you have to think of this Uncertainty that has been the sole constant for so long.

And then you have to wonder if it’s worth it.

Three Arrests in Malaysia

September 15, 2008

Malaysia’s democracy took a body blow Friday with the arrests of a blogger, a journalist and an opposition politician under the country’s draconian Internal Security Act. The government appears willing to use any means it can, including fear and intimidation, to retain office as support for opposition parties grows.

[Abdullah Ahmad Badawi]

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar justified Friday’s arrests as an effort to “safeguard the interest of the majority.” Blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin commented on political and racial issues on his popular Web site. Reporter Tan Chee Hoon wrote about a ruling party politician’s slur on the country’s Chinese minority in Malaysia’s largest-circulation Chinese-language daily. Democratic Action Party politician Teresa Kok was accused of objecting to a mosque broadcasting its morning prayers too loudly.

The accusations are ridiculous on their face. Mr. Kamaruddin exercised his right to free speech, which is protected under Malaysia’s constitution. Ms. Tan’s reporting also falls under free speech, and the man whose comments she reported hasn’t been arrested. Ms. Kok’s alleged crime was refuted by the mosque, which confirms she wasn’t involved — and even if she were, why would it be a crime to file a noise complaint? There’s no reason the charges couldn’t be sorted out by civil courts.

Rather than an attempt to “protect” Malaysians, the arrests seem designed to invoke fear before the opposition parties, led by Anwar Ibrahim, mount a challenge to government in Parliament. The ISA is a powerful weapon: Under its umbrella, the police can detain any Malaysian indefinitely with the permission of the Home Minister. Five ethnic Indian activists arrested under the ISA in December remain behind bars.

The government denies that Friday’s arrests were politically motivated. The Home Minister became visibly agitated when questioned by journalists at a press conference Saturday, saying, “We do get information from members of the public who feel unsafe, so we have to take preventive measures.” If that’s the case, then Mr. Albar could help make his case by releasing that information.

The arrests are part of a broader crackdown on freedom of expression. Mr. Kamaruddin’s blog, Malaysia Today, was blocked briefly by government regulators last month. On Wednesday the police issued “a stern warning to all quarters to refrain from making statements on sensitive issues via the various media.” Two days later, the government sent “show cause” letters to three newspapers — the Sun, Sin Chew Daily, and Suara Keadilan, Mr. Anwar’s party publication — asking them to explain why they shouldn’t be prosecuted for recent news coverage. The content of the letters hasn’t been made public.

The police released the reporter, Ms. Tan, Saturday, saying she had cooperated with them. That action could be seen as a tacit admission on the government’s part that it was a mistake to incarcerate her in the first place. More likely is that the UMNO-led coalition was interested in protecting its own back. UMNO’s Chinese coalition partners were outraged after Ms. Tan reported the anti-Chinese slur by a Penang state official, Ahmad Ismail. UMNO responded by banning Mr. Ahmad from politics for three years, calming the intra-coalition dispute. Ms. Tan’s arrest rekindled the flames.

That leaves Mr. Kamaruddin and Ms. Kok behind bars today. Many Malaysians are courageously protesting their incarcerations in blogs, text messages and public statements. The Malaysian Bar Association said Friday “the ISA and other preventive detention laws violate fundamental rights, are unconstitutional and oppressive, and have no place in a society that respects and upholds the rule of law.”

A political showdown is expected soon. Mr. Anwar says he has enough votes in Parliament to defeat UMNO’s coalition. As the government struggles to retain power, its use of the Internal Security Act weakens its legitimacy. Many Malaysians already see Friday’s arrests for what they are — a blot on their country’s democracy.

1 thought on “The calm before the storm

  1. Pingback: Just Stand Up « backstagepiphany

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