PUTRAJAYA: Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has questioned a report by the United States, which stated that Malaysia used its national security laws to stifle critics of the ruling government.
“Who was arrested (because of this reason)?” he said at a press conference here today, when asked to comment on the claim made by the US State Department in its “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016”.
The report was published on the US embassy website last week. It stated, among other things, that Malaysia was using its national security and anti-terror laws to “arrest, jail, harass, and intimidate critics and political opposition”.
It then cited the arrest of Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah in November last year.
“In November, police arrested a human rights activist under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act on the eve of a planned public demonstration, and held her in solitary confinement for 10 days.”
The public demonstration it referred to was the Bersih 5 rally on Nov 19, which also saw a slew of arrests of prominent Malaysian activists and civil rights figures in a sweeping operation, a day prior.
“These laws have also been used to stifle dissent critical of the alleged misappropriation of sovereign wealth fund money from 1MDB, Malaysia’s government-owned investment fund,” the report said.
When these allegations were pointed out to him, Zahid said Maria was not arrested because of political differences.
Claiming that no politically-motivated arrests were ever carried out during the present Najib Razak-led government, Zahid then trained his sights on former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“Political arrests were practiced during Mahathir’s era, while the Internal Security Act (ISA) was still being enforced.”
ISA was abolished when Najib came to power.
“It was enforced even on the person speaking right now. It happened to me in 1998,” said Zahid, who is also home minister.
“During Pak Lah (Najib’s immediate predecessor Abdullah Badawi) and Najib’s time, no arrest was done purely because of political differences.
“In fact, our government now is more transparent and more open in facing such differences.”