Najib’s crackdown on dissent widens, 20 arrests so far

By Wong Choon Mei, Suara Keadilan

With tacit approval from his cousin Prime Minister Najib Razak, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has arrested 20 activists, including a lawmaker, in the past 26 hours in a bid to club down dissent and stamp their authority on the nation.

The crackdowns have not been unexpected, with Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang warning of such a probability months ago, even before Najib was officially sworn in as the country’s sixth prime minister on Apr 3.

His supporters have rushed to his defence, saying that hardline measures were important for his Umno party to regain the upper-hand in the increasingly competitive local political scene.

They applauded the caveman tactics and old-style politics promulgated by his mentor, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, believing that this was the only possible way forward.

Yet most Malaysians disagree, with many pundits warning the scandal-hit Najib would only dig his own grave if he did not stop.

Some pundits also warned Najib might be trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, the country’s second PM Abdul Razak, whom many believe had instigated the May 13, 1969 racial riots and then imposed emergency rule to gain power and tighten his grip on the multi-racial country.

“It is very disturbing what is happening. Honest comment on the democratic process should be given understanding. These are not racial or religious comments but are really bona fide expressions of the state of affairs in the country,” said Ramon Navaratnam, chairman of Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.

“So I would appeal to those at the very top for calm and consideration for the overriding importance of healthy development in the democratic process.”

May 7 – Black Thursday, May 13 – reprisal?

Those who had predicted a reprisal of the May 13 riots as its 40th anniversary approached believe that this time it would take place in Ipoh, the capital of Perak state, rather than in Kuala Lumpur. Like the federal capital, it has a big Chinese population.

The first to be arrested was Ipoh-born pro-democracy activist Wong Chin Huat on Tuesday night. Chin Huat who had slammed Najib’s 1Malaysia vision, which ironically called for greater democratic space and freedom of expression.

Chin Huat had called on the people to wear black on May 7, Black Thursday, to protest an unpopular power grab in Perak launched by Najib in February. He unveiled a campaign slogan 1BlackMalaysia to parody Najib’s 1Malaysia.

At a candlelight vigil held for him on Wednesday night, 14 people including Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching, Suara Keadilan Chinese Editor Law Teck Hao, political columnist Josh Hong, Suaram coordinator John Liu, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall leader Liau Kok Fah.

Activists Melissa Wong Yuet Fun, Temme Lee, Liew Thin Choi, Chan Kim Ming and Lee King Thim were also detained. Police have refused to give further details and also did not allow their lawyers to see them.

“The police were too much. They went hysterical with mass arrest of vigil keepers. The Inspector-General too chewed off more than he should by ordering no black clothes, putting up road blocks in Ipoh. It looks like Najib is launching a police state even before his 100 days honeymoon ends,” said Tian Chua, PKR strategic affairs director. All 14 were released several hours later.

The other five who were arrested earlier in the day were Malay leaders.

One was PAS vice-president Mohamad Sabu, who like Chin Huat had urged the Perak people to protest against Thursday’s state assembly sitting, where Najib’s Umno-BN is expected to widely flout state laws in a bid to hang onto power.

Mat Sabu had a couple of days ago asked supporters to gather for prayers at the Istihad Mosque in Manjoi, Ipoh, at 5 am, to protest the ousting of Pakatan Rakyat Menteri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin. PAS president Hadi Awang would also be present.

“We will pray that God soften the hearts of those arrogant enough to steal the rights of the Perak people to self determination,” Mat Sabu had said, stressing the gathering was a peaceful one.

“With this prayer, we urge that BN dissolve the state assembly and pave the way for a state election so that the people of Perak can rightfully determine who their leaders should be.”

Altantuya’s 31st Birthday

The other four who were arrested were PKR supreme council member Badrul Hisham Saharin, Sani Md Shah, Saufi Mihad and Yasir Sheikh Abdul Rahman.

Part of a group of 30 activists from Solidariti Anak Musa Malaysia, they had tried to deliver a birthday cake to Najib commemorating the 31st birthday of murdered Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu.

The group was also trying to deliver a letter from her father, Setev Shaariibuu, to Najib. Setev has made it clear that he is unhappy about the way his daugther’s murder trial had been conducted.

“The matter requires focusing now on my two orphaned grandsons – the sons of Altantuya. We need a solution to the civil suit I would file against you, the Malaysian government and the police. I would also like to calm down my daughter’s spirit by conducting a funeral for her, which I have not done, and it will not be done, until all issues surrounding my daughter’s death is settled,” Setev wrote in the letter.

“The police rushed to surround us and then quickly seized the cake. The arrested three of our activists without giving any reasons whatsoever,” said Badrul Hisham, stressing that SAMM had gathered peacefully.

Altantuya is alleged to have been Najib’s mistress at one time. She was killed by two policemen who were part of his security detail. While they have been found guilty and sentenced to hang, Setev and most Malaysians are still dissatisfied. They believe the overriding question still remained : But who ordered her killing?