Malaysia: Opposition figures arrested weeks after election protests


Supporters of the opposition Pan-Islamic Malaysian Party campaign along a road on the eve of elections on May 4, 2013 in Pekan, Malaysia. The elections, set for May 5, will see incumbent PM Najib Razak face Anwar Ibrahim, whose opposition coalition includes moderates, Islamists and Malaysians of Chinese descent.


Nicky Loh

Malaysian authorities arrested key government critics on Thursday and reportedly raided newspaper offices as part of a post-election crackdown. 

Malaysia's May 5 parliamentary election was controversial because the leading opposition party won the popular vote but was prevented from taking power because the electoral voting system gives greater representative authority to the countryside, according to The New York Times, noting that rural areas tended to be more loyal to the ruling party. 

Even so, Reuters said this was the first time the ruling Barisan Nasional failed to win the popular vote in 44 years. 

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, recently lead mass demonstrations accusing the government of vote rigging, and one of his top men —  lawmaker Tian Chua — was arrested on Thursday, said NYT

“No dictators could ever repress the rise of people’s power," Chua, the deputy head of the People's Alliance party, reportedly tweeted. 

Chua was detained as he was just going to board a flight at Kuala Lumpur's airport, reported Reuters. It was not clear what his destination was.

Another major anti-government activist, Haris Ibrahim, was arrested Thursday along with Tamrin Ghafar, who is tied to an Islamic group allied with the opposition, said NYT

Student activist Adam Adli was also charged with sedition on Thursday but later released, according to NYT. However, Reuters said he was detained over a May 13 speech in which he reportedly told the people not to wait another five years in order to "overthrow" ruling authorities.

The Malaysian government issued a statement late Thursday saying the "detentions came after the police received numerous reports against the defendants by members of the public,” according to NYT. “In such circumstances the police are required to investigate and are following due and proper process," it added.

Kuala Lumpur police chief Mohamed Salleh told Reuters they were arrested for violating the Sedition Act but would not say whether or not more people would be detained. 

There were also online reports of authorities raiding various opposition-leaning newspapers and taking thousands of copies, said Reuters, but those reports could not be independently confirmed.