PETALING JAYA: Police have confirmed the arrest of prominent Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol, hours after he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to board a flight to Rome.
A short statement from the Bukit Aman police headquarters confirmed that immigration authorities at the airport detained Akyol last night following a request by police.
The reason for Akyol’s detention is not known, but Malaysian police have in the past worked together with their counterparts in Turkey to deport critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government has arrested tens of thousands of people accused of supporting a failed coup last year.
The confirmation of Akyol’s arrest comes as the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) prepares to visit KLIA today, after efforts to trace Akyol failed following his detention by immigration authorities.
News of his “disappearance” have riled several prominent academics abroad who criticised Malaysian authorities who earlier forced the cancellation of a forum featuring him.
“Deepening authoritarianism in Malaysia as talk by Turkish Muslim author is cancelled,” says a tweet from Nader Hashemi who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver in United States.
FMT understands that Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph and lawyer Jesrina Kaur Grewal will be visiting the airport this morning.
Akyol’s Malaysian host, Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) said they had been trying since yesterday evening to get hold of him without success.
IRF director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa confirmed the visit by Suhakam, adding they would be accompanied by members of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
“Hopefully they will get access to Akyol,” he told FMT, adding that he was also approaching the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kuala Lumpur later today.
Akyol, on his fifth trip to Malaysia for a lecture tour, had gone to KLIA yesterday afternoon to board a flight to Rome via Istanbul, but soon after lost communication with his wife.
He was supposed to have boarded a Turkish Airlines flight to Rome at 11.35pm last night, before continuing his journey to Boston. Akyol is a senior visiting fellow at the Wellesley College.
His wife, Riada Asimovic, also tried in vain to reach her husband.
“She said Akyol texted him only once saying that he was being detained. Then he became incontactable,” Farouk said.
“Perhaps he was allowed only for one text message.”
Akyol’s presence in Malaysia has ruffled some Muslim conservatives as well as Islamic authorities, who accused him of breaching a law requiring those speaking on Islam to have official credentials.
Yesterday, after issuing summonses to Akyol and Farouk over a charge of breaching the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act for speaking without permit, the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) forced the cancellation of a forum featuring Akyol at the Nottingham University Malaysia’s campus in Kuala Lumpur.
But the 45-year-old who has frequently spoken out against draconian laws to curb free speech in Muslim countries said he was puzzled by the harassment.
“I don’t claim to be a mufti or imam with religious authority,” Akyol told FMT hours before his detention. “I just had referred to the more liberal views in Islamic tradition, from an academic perspective, and the fact that even this raises alarm is puzzling to me.”