Friday, September 19, 2008

Silencing the critics

Malaysia's recent rash of political arrests

There's a little something that's been brewing in the country of Malaysia quite recently and one is sorry to admit that the most current issue of concern has not been human trafficking.

The last week has seen disturbing news for the Southeast Asian country: the seemingly democratic government of Malaysia, under its existing Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has gone on to arrest three people under the country's Internal Security Act. The ISA is a law that enables the government to arrest and detain an individual indefinitely without a trial. This alone raises huge concerns, but what's astonishing about the ISA was its recent bout of arrestees: Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor of online news blog Malaysia Today, Tan Hoon Cheng, a reporter for Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily and Teresa Kok, one of the leaders in the Malay Democrat Action Party.

Kamarudin was detained after reporting on rumours connecting political leaders and their affiliations in the highly scandalized 2006 murder of the Malaysian model/translator Altantuya Shaariibuu. Cheng was arrested for reporting racist comments uttered by Datuk Ahmad Ismail, a deputy chief of Malaysia's largest political party, the United Malays National Organization. Kok, a lawmaker for the opposition Democrat Action Party, was accused by an influential newspaper of signing a petition in which a mosque in the town of Puchong was ordered to "turn down the volume" when participating in the religious discussions, or ceramah, that followed traditional Islamic prayers.

Two writers and a politician. Three people whose work needs to be protected by freedom of speech. Three people relying on the right to present anti-government stances. Is it then by pure coincidence all three arrests took place while the government is striving to recover from the disastrous election results of March 2008? Since then, the otherwise politically secure country has experienced one of its worst episodes of political instability since the 1998 elections.

The arrests of Kamarudin, Cheng and Kok are not at all justified. Although Cheng was only detained for a day under the ISA, the fact remains Cheng was prosecuted for openly criticizing an acting politician. Ismail himself has not denied these claims and has been suspended from the UMNO because of his racist intonations regarding Malaysia's Chinese population. In order to have a functioning democracy, there needs to be a free press to critique it. Cheng did nothing wrong by informing the public of a faulty politician, she should not be arrested for making the public aware.

Kamarudin, as well, did nothing wrong. The Internet is what many term a free information source, akin to an international bulletin board-- it is up to the reader's discretion to discern the truth from the mass of content, as with any book or TV show. If Kamarudin felt there was a hidden conspiracy between the murder of Shaariibuu and acting government officials, it is his prerogative to distribute these ideas.

The arrest of Kok is ridiculous. It seems she might not have signed the petition upon which her arrest is hinged. Kok has alleged she had no involvement in the petition whatsoever or its signatories and the mosque in question has affirmed Kok had no participation in presenting or signing the petition.

After this discussion, one solitary question arises: what the hell is going on? Apprehensive allegations posted on a news blog website, published reports of racial comments-- these are not just the prohibited actions of the people of a democratic government, they are obligatory to keep it in check. As Edward R. Murrow once said, "A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."

All parties under democratic rule need to understand this. As for Kok, her detainment under the ISA is on the table as well-- if the accusations concerning her actions have been nullified, why is the woman still in detainment? What is the real reason the government of Malaysia has decided, at this moment where its position in power is at its weakest, to bag two people in media that are promoting anti-government feeling and one prominent member of the opposition party who has no conclusive evidence supporting the charges against her?

Come next election, one has the feeling that Malaysia will have a new prime minister.

source: Silencing the critics
Gauntlet, Canada - 1 hour ago