You can’t just arrest those you disagree with, Paulsen tells govt

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PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty today reminded authorities that they cannot simply apprehend those with whom they disagree, following the arrest and overnight detention of Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol.

In a statement today, the organisation’s executive director Eric Paulsen said Akyol’s arrest was “a most serious assault on democracy and freedom of speech” as now even foreign intellectuals who have some measure of protection were not immune from being targeted by the authorities.

“The government must be reminded that disagreement, criticism and condemnation are part and parcel of democracy, and they cannot just arrest those whom they disagree with.

“Having independent thought and speaking up is not a crime,” he said.

Akyol was detained by religious authorities yesterday on suspicion of speaking on Islam without proper credentials.

He had been in Malaysia to speak at a forum on Christian-Muslim dialogue, but the event was cancelled following pressure from Islamic authorities.

At another forum on Sunday, Akyol had also criticised governments who use draconian laws to remain in power.

He was detained by the police at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) last night and taken to the Federal Territory Islamic Department (Jawi) office where his statement was recorded.

He was freed at 12 noon today after the completion of investigation by the department’s enforcement officers.

Pointing out that this was not Akyol’s first working visit to Malaysia, Paulsen said the journalist had previously given similar talks without any impediments from the authorities.

“His views are well known and well documented, and there is nothing to suggest they are a threat to national security, public order or so out of bounds of democratic norms that they become criminal in nature,” Paulsen said.

The human rights lawyer said Akyol’s arrest and detention was “a show of force”, comparing the act to those by authoritarian states such as China, Turkey and Egypt.

“Such high-handed behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to civil society and in particular to intellectuals, whether Malaysians or international visitors, that they should watch what they say, or else they may invite retaliation.

“Freedom of speech remains an indispensable component in any modern and democratic society as it enables the public to make informed decisions based on the free flow of information and exchange of ideas.

“In order to do so, we must have diversity in thought and opinion, not just what the government deems as correct, true or acceptable,” he said.