Is this a prelude to a crackdown similar to the Operasi Lalang in 1987?
This is the question posed following the government's move to arrestprominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) today and to ask three newspapers to explain why action should not be taken against them.
Several quarters are wondering whether this is a precursor to the second round of the Operasi Lalang ahead of the opposition's threat to topple the BN-led government by next Tuesday.
In 1987, 119 politicians, social activists, unionists, Chinese educationists and religious missionaries were rounded up in a massive police swoop code-named Operasi Lalang.
Of them, 49 were detained without trial under the ISA for two years or more, while others were released after several months at the Kamunting detention camp in Perak.
During that week of massive uncertainty and fear generated by the secret operations, the annual publishing permit of three newspapers - The Star, Sin Chew Jit Poh (known as Sin Chew Daily now) andWatan - was revoked as well.
Coincidentally, the government also asked three newspapers - Sin Chew, The Sun and opposition PKR’s organ Suara Keadilan - to give a satisfactory explanation on their political coverage lately, failing which their licences may be revoked or suspended.
Below are the reactions from several quarters:
Anwar Ibrahim, opposition leader and PKR supremo
In the aftermath of the March 8 elections and the Permatang Pauh by-election the Malaysian people have demonstrated their courage and commitment to building a mature democratic society. The dastardly act of detention without trial will do nothing to abate the current government’s declining credibility, and in fact will likely hasten its eventual collapse.
PKR reiterates its vehement opposition to the practice of arbitrary detention without trial. We have consistently called for the immediate release of all ISA detainees, as such practices have no place in a democratic society.
The ISA is used to quash dissent and smother those who in exercising their right to free speech voice opinions contrary to the preferred views of the ruling clique. Invoking the ISA just days before Sept 16 is clearly an attempt to engineer an atmosphere of fear and instability that would justify the government, heavy-handed tactics against those aligned with the political opposition.
Penang-based civil rights movement Aliran
The government’s atrocious action against Raja Petra and the three newspapers is completely undemocratic and violates universal press freedom, which is the bedrock of democracy.
The government’s latest move reinforces the suspicion that these are desperate measures taken to undermine what is seen as the unstoppable (Opposition Leader) Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Rakyat mounting a real challenge to the Barisan Nasional.
Whatever the case may be, we urge the government to release Raja Petra unconditionally and also retract the show cause letters issued to the three brave newspapers so that democracy can flourish and justice be served.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP supremo and Ipoh Timor MP
These actions make a mockery of the claims of the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration to usher in a more open and democratic society under a just rule of law.
In shows the administration's utter cynicism and Machiavellian politics in unblocking Raja Petra’s news portal Malaysia Today after a two-week censorship only to arrest Raja Petra under the ISA in less than 24 hours.
'ISA for Raja Petra and show-cause letters to three newspapers while a three-year Umno suspension for Ahmad Ismail, the Umno Bukit Bendera division chief - is this the Abdullah justice and rule of law?' is the universal response and question of Malaysians today.
Raja Petra has clearly become the victim of a new power play in Umno in the post-March 8 general election. It heralds a larger crackdown against criticism, dissent and diversity of views as Raja Petra’s ISA detention and the action against the three newspapers will open the floodgates for a new repression in Malaysia.
Who are next on the line to be victims of the Abdullah crackdown and will it be reminiscent of the 1987 Operasi Lalang?
Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, opposition PKR president
PKR views Raja Petra’s arrest as a possible prelude to a wider impending crackdown. This is BN’s desperate response to the growing public expectation of a change in government that will end Umno’s corrupt mismanagement of the country.
The show-cause letters issued to several media organisations as reported today also appear to be part of a prelude to an impending crackdown. Umno or BN should realise that such an attack on democracy will only accelerate the further slide of Malaysia’s dipping economic and political ratings.
We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Raja Petra. If Umno or BN feel that he has committed any offences, then charge him in open court so that he can defend himself.
Teresa Kok, Selangor senior state exco and DAP organising secretary
The government makes us wonder whether this is a prelude to a new ‘Operasi Lalang’ 1987? In this globalised age, it is incomprehensible that the government would use such brute tactics against dissenters yet again.
It is very sad that media professionals are once again used as scapegoats to pay for the wrongdoings of bigoted Umno politicians. I am reminded of the ‘nude squat’ incident when senior editors of the China Press were dismissed to take the rap for their coverage of the matter although that was clearly a matter of public interest.
The quick reaction of government in the case of Raja Petra and the three dailies slapped with ‘show cause’ orders contrasts sharply with the kid-gloved treatment given to Umno extremists.
Dr Toh Kin Woon, former Gerakan stalwart
It is blatantly obvious that the state is now resorting to the use of dictatorial and draconian measures to intimidate all those who wish to tell and reveal the truths. Even those who merely do their job honestly as journalists and the newspapers that they work for are not spared.
It is increasingly obvious, too, that the present federal government is not prepared to allow the space for freedom of speech, including the freedom of press.
But Malaysians want such a space. The obvious way for them to realise their goal is to support a change of government at the federal level.