Journalists held as Malaysian arrests mount

2015-03-31 10:50

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Kuala Lumpur - Malaysian police arrested a prominent publisher and a website editor for sedition on Tuesday, the latest targets in a mounting tally of detentions that is being 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.

That followed the arrest of scores of people in recent days on sedition charges or for assembly violations related to a series of anti-government protests sparked by the February jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Senior opposition figure Lim Kit Siang estimated on Tuesday that more than 100 people had been detained over the past week.

Three Malaysian Insider editors had been arrested on Monday over a recent news report involving the nation's nine ceremonial sultans.

The Edge, however, has also earned the government's anger for a series of reports on the murky dealings of a government-owned investment company whose board is chaired by Prime Minister Najib Razak -- including questions over the whereabouts of huge sums of missing money.

In a statement published by The Malaysian Insider 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 favour despite these arrests. It is business as usual," he said.

Th ruling coalition, in power since independence in 1957 launched a crackdown on freedom of expression and other civil liberties following a poor showing in 2013 elections.

The current wave of arrests adds to scores of opposition politicians, academics and activists already nabbed over the past year on sedition and other charges. Nearly all were released pending court proceedings.

Najib's government also jailed Anwar on sodomy charges that have been widely criticised, including by the United States and international rights groups.

Anwar was jailed in February for five years on charges he sodomised a former male aide in 2008.

He says the case was fabricated by the government to halt recent opposition successes.

Najib's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the crackdown.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed the journalists' arrests in a Twitter posting, warning: "There will be no tolerance for any seditious activity."

'White terror'

Police said the arrests stem from the Malaysian Insider's report last week that a council of the Muslim-majority country's nine ceremonial state sultans had opposed an Islamic opposition party's proposal for tough sharia criminal punishments such as amputating the hands of thieves.

The portal said the sultan's council denied the report's claim.

It is not clear how the report could be considered seditious, but Malaysia has strict rules against insulting the sultans.

Senior opposition figure Lim called the spate of arrests a "reign of white terror" evoking "Operation Lalang", the 1987 arrests of 106 activists, opposition politicians, intellectuals and others, widely seen as a bid to curb regime critics.

"The question can be legitimately asked whether the country is seeing a replay of the Ops Lalang dragnet," Lim said in a statement.

Lim spent 17 months in detention without being charged over Operation Lalang. Historians say the episode marked a key acceleration of authoritarian rule in the country.

The journalists' arrests were roundly denounced by press groups.

Malaysia's Center for Independent Journalism and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, in a joint statement, called them "an assault on media freedom and an act of intimidation" by authorities.

Sedition is punishable by up to three years in jail.

Read more on:    anwar ibrahim  |  myanmar  |  media

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