Friday, May 15, 2009

EIGHTY ARRESTED IN STANDOFF OVER CONTROL OF PERAK STATE: MALAYSIA


MALAYSIA: 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.

Visit these links:
- CIJ: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102929/
- CIJ on Wong's arrest: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102924/
- IFEX Malaysia page: http://tinyurl.com/3o3ywy