Updated 4.15pm on 6 May 2009
PETALING JAYA, 6 May 2009: Several groups, think tanks and political parties have condemned the arrest of political scientist Wong Chin Huat for alleged sedition.
“The arrest of Wong does not augur well for (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak)’s promise of openness and respect for the people,” said Malaysian Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan in a press statement today.
Ragunath expressed concern that the police was stifling public opinion and dissent towards the Barisan Nasional (BN) government He called for Wong’s immediate release.
“The police force must remain above politics. It must not be seen as a tool to intimidate and cow those who express disagreement,” Ragunath said.
Ragunath urged the government to repeal the Sedition Act, and refrain from using it, especially against those whose viewpoints differ from the government’s.
“We reiterate our stand that authoritarian and repressive legislation such as the Sedition Act is an absolute affront to democracy,” Ragunath said.
He also condemned the way in which Wong was arrested, and the fact that the political scientist and activist was denied access to legal counsel. Wong is also a columnist with The Nut Graph.
Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI) director Dr Lim Teck Ghee said the police action was the result of an “unreformed and authoritarian political system”.
“The public should regard the arrest of Chin Huat as another round in the salvo of BN’s dirty tricks and should show that [they are] not cowed by wearing black on 7 May,” Lim said in a press statement.
Lim referred to a press conference held by the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) on 5 May to launch its 1BLACKMalaysia campaign. The campaign urged Malaysians to wear black on 7 May to protest the BN take-over of the Perak state government. Some consider Wong’s arrest as being directly related to the press conference, which Wong chaired in his capacity as Bersih representative.
“All the speakers (at the press conference) spoke responsibly of the right of Malaysians to participate in free and fair elections,” Lim stressed, adding that there were no attempts at incitement or any other action that could be considered seditious.
“Wong is a well-respected academic and activist who consistently advocates for good governance and civilised politics,” said Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) senior research analyst Noel Dass.
“His arrest is a violation of Wong’s freedom of expression and contradicts the Najib administration’s promise to be more open to political dissent, and to accept criticism,” Dass added.
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), in its press statement, quoted from Najib’s 6 April speech “Policy, Politics and the Media – the Way Forward”.
“It is ironic that the arrest of Wong was made shortly after the prime minister’s speech. The arrest undermines the very sentiment of that call and commitment to respect differing opinions,” said Empower executive director Maria Chin Abdullah.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) concurred, saying that this episode has cast a deep cynicism over Najib’s commitment to reform.
“Najib has clearly failed to restore public confidence in the independence of state institutions as they continue to become instruments to maintain the power of the ruling government,” CIJ executive director V Gayathry said in a statement.
DAP Socialist Youth deputy chairperson Jenice Lee Ying Ha also condemned Wong’s arrest and demanded for his immediate release.
“The arrest is meant to scare citizens, especially defenders of democracy, who are going to participate in Bersih’s campaign,” Lee said in a statement today.
Former Penang state executive councillor Dr Toh Kin Woon added in a statement today that to most Malaysians, the planned Bersih action was a legitimate form of protest against what they deemed as BN’s attack against democracy.
“This latest action against Wong will only add fuel to fire, further worsening the crisis,” Toh stressed.
Klang Member of Parliamment Charles Santiago urged Malaysians to participate in the 1BLACKMalaysia campaign “as a show of support to Wong”.
“Let’s send a message to Najib that Malaysians will not stand for intimidation of individuals who express differing views,” Santiago said in a statement today.
Home Minister declines comment
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein’s office declined comment on the reasons for Wong’s arrest, saying that for the first round of such arrests it is the police who responds.
Bukit Aman Commercial CID director Datuk Koh Hong Sun said last night Wong was detained under the Sedition Act 1948 for writing several articles, including on the 1BLACKMalaysia campaign.
Koh, who declined to give details on Wong’s detention, had said police would decide today whether to extend his detention or not.
Under the law, the police must bring an arrested person before a magistrate within 24-hours of arrest. The police can apply for the person to be remanded for up to 14 days.