An echo of recent events in Europe can be heard in the archipelagoes of Southeast Asia. Parts of this story are similar to European events — journalists and bloggers who report on racial strife are intimidated, suppressed, banned, and arrested — while other aspects are particular to Malaysia.
Throughout Southeast Asia the Chinese play a role that bears a remarkable resemblance to that of the Jews in the West. They are limited in their activities by local laws and customs, yet they are well-educated, successful, and run prosperous commercial enterprises. Not surprisingly, they become scapegoats for demagogues when political conditions are right.
This story is interesting for several reasons. The Chinese are explicitly compared to the Jews. They are seen by the Malaysians as having economic control, but not political control, and the intention of the ruling elites is to prevent them from gaining that control. On top of all this is the issue of Islam and alleged insults directed at the Prophet.
Our Flemish correspondent VH has been following the events closely, and prepared this summary for Gates of Vienna:
There have been three recent arrests (and yesterday one release) of journalistic critics.
The Sin Chew Daily reported on August 25 that at a by-election campaign for the general elections in March, Ahmad Ismail, a northern district chief in the United Malays National Organization party [UMNO], had called the Chinese “pendatang” (immigrants) and was also reported to have said that “as the Chinese are only immigrants it is impossible to achieve equal rights [for them] amongst races”. He made these remarks in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Ahmad Ismail later denied having said that, but others confirmed it: “he raised his voice louder and louder, and suddenly I heard this: ‘Orang Cina cuma tumpang di sini sahaja.’ (The Chinese are only squatting here)” .
At a press conference Ahmad explained: “The patience of the Malays and Muslims has a limit. Do not push us to the wall, as when we turn back we will be forced to push the Chinese in the interests of our own survival. The Chinese should not try to be like the Jews in America. It is not enough they control the economy, now they want political control.”
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Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi [UMNO] said that party leaders had expressed “regret and anger” over the Ahmad Ismail’s comments and decided to suspend him from the UMNO for three years. He also warned that authorities would go after anyone who tries to incite racial strife, including using a law allowing indefinite imprisonment without trial “if absolutely necessary.”
Surprisingly enough, not Ahmad Ismail, but Tan Hoon Cheng, the Sin Chew Daily reporter who first reported on Ahmad Ismail’s racial remarks, was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA). On the same day, after an earlier ban on his blog Malaysia Today, Raja Petra Kamaruddin was arrested, also under this Internal Security Act (being a threat to security, peace and public order) and charged with inciting hate with his articles on Islam, and with insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
“In arresting the 58-year-old today, police acted on a complaint by a number of Muslim groups, who say Mr Raja Petra insulted Islam in one of his recent online articles.” One of those Muslim groups is the government’s very own Department of Islamic Development (Jakim).
Sin Chew journalist Tan Hoon Cheng was released today:
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said this at a press conference at the Bukit Aman police headquarters.
“She made the first report so we had to get to the bottom of it and we received information that her life was under threat.”
He added that blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok [who — in a situation resembling the arrest of Nekschot in the Netherlands — was arrested in one go during the raid on Tan Hoon Cheng and Raja Petra Kamaruddin, by no less than 10 police officers] would continue to be held for investigations [charged with an alleged involvement with a resident’s petition concerning a mosque].
[Hamid Albar] insisted that the move was not political and it was purely the decision of the police.
“I can tell you that the police need not refer to me. Under Section 73(1) it is under their discretion but they will let me know. I think there has not been any malice on their part,” he said, adding also that if he interfered in police action, people would say there is a political motive.”
Albar also said: “While we may want to be popular, freedom without responsibilities has ramifications. We have to take action to protect the wishes of the majority [Malay Muslims].”
Links to various information sources:
- My Sinchew/The Ahmad Ismail [People’s Justice Party] Episode
- Sin Chew Reporter Picked Up Under ISA
- Sin Chew reporter Tan Hoon Cheng arrested under the ISA
- Statement by Sin Chew Daily: The Ahmad Ismail Report: We Stand By Our Story
- Ahmad Ismail
- Raja Petra, Teresa Kok and Sin Chew reporter arrested under ISA
- MAFREL: Next time a reporter hears some racial remarks by a politician should he/she report it in the interests of truthfulness and professionalism?