Malaysia's Anwar condemns use of security law
By Clarence Fernandez
Fri Dec 14, 5:54 AM ET
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Five ethnic Indians held under a Malaysian law that allows detention without trial should be charged in court immediately to avoid the risk of rights abuse, Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim said on Friday.
Authorities have said the activists, members of a group that staged a massive anti-government protest last month, were detained on Thursday for up to two years on the grounds that their actions had threatened national security.
The group, the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) alarmed the government by bringing more than 10,000 ethnic Indians onto the streets of the capital to complain of racial discrimination.
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who was once himself locked up under the colonial-era law originally designed to fight communists, said the legislation was easy to abuse.
"We are, as a principle, against the Internal Security Act and the use of the Act against anyone," he told reporters.
"We have evidence, we have experience of the abuse of the Act against political personalities and civil society leaders throughout the years after independence."
Anwar was himself beaten by the then police chief during his own detention under the Act in 1998, for leading anti-government protests demanding political reform in the wake of being sacked by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government had been very patient with the Hindraf group, and acted only after having given it a sufficient chance to conform to the law.
"The public wanted the government to take a stern action much earlier but we were very patient and tolerant," state news agency Bernama quoted Najib as saying. "When the ISA was invoked, it should not have come as a surprise to anyone."
Thursday's arrests aimed to curb the political space for debates on economic policy, corruption and other social challenges, Amnesty International said in a statement.
"We assert that the ISA is the biggest symbol of torture and injustice in Malaysia and we hereby call on the executive to abolish the Act," the rights group added.
The Bar Council, which says its represents all of Malaysia's 12,000 lawyers, urged the government to free the five men or charge them in court.
"The Bar Council once again reiterates its call to the government for immediate repeal of the Act," it added.
The Hindraf rally was one of two mass protests last month. A separate crowd of around 10,000 people had earlier turned out on the streets of the capital to demand electoral reforms, amid expectations of a snap poll by March 2008.
But the Indian rally, though largely peaceful, aroused deep concerns within the government, and also among many ordinary Malaysians, because of the country's history of tense and sometimes explosively violent race relations.
In 2001, five people were killed and 37 wounded in riots between majority ethnic Malays and Indians that began after an Indian kicked over a chair at a Malay wedding. In 1969, hundreds were killed in rioting between Malays and ethnic Chinese.
Anwar said he believed more arrests could follow, because Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi appeared to have decided to take a hard line against the protesters.
"I am extremely -- not only disappointed, but appalled -- by the manner in which Prime Minister Abdullah is acting right now," he said.
"He has just succumbed to pressures of extremist hue. From the rhetoric of the government, the prime minister and the leaders, I wouldn't be surprised if more arrests were made."
(Reporting by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Alex Richardson)