KUALA LUMPUR, AFP
Malaysian police said Wednesday they have arrested seven supporters of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on suspicion of planning violent protests to topple Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government.
They were held under a security law allowing indefinite detention without trial and police said they are hunting more people.
National police chief Norian Mai said Anwar’s supporters had tried in the past to buy explosives and weapons for street protests.
He said the seven “Reformasi” (reform) supporters were detained Tuesday and Wednesday “because there was information about their involvement in an activity which could endanger the security of the country.”
They planned to launch “large-scale street demonstrations in a militant way ahead of the 2004 (next general) elections.”
International and local rights groups and opposition parties bitterly criticized the arrests under the feared Internal Security Act (ISA), saying Mahathir is trying to silence peaceful political dissent.
The ISA, a colonial relic designed to defeat a communist rebellion, allows indefinite detention without trial. It was its first use against political figures since Anwar and 27 supporters were detained in September 1998.
“It’s a draconian law which they are using to stifle dissent,” said Chandra Muzaffar, deputy president of the National Justice Party (Keadilan) headed by Anwar’s wife.
“Keadilan has been singled out in an attempt to crush the party.”
Amnesty International said it was “very concerned there is a political purpose behind the detentions.”
The arrests were timed to derail plans to submit a memorandum to the human rights commission on Anwar’s treatment this Saturday, April 14.
Activists call it “Black 14” — the second anniversary of the sentencing of the ex-deputy premier to a six-year jail term for abuse of power.
Norian said the event could have turned into a riot.
“They plan to gather 50,000 people. The gathering and the procession has the potential to transform into a riot,” he told a press conference.
The police chief said Reformasi activists had tried to obtain explosives including rocket launchers and to use petrol bombs and other dangerous weapons to attack security forces.
He described the threat posed by the group as serious but it was not clear whether he was still accusing activists of trying to buy arms.
Those arrested are Keadilan youth wing leader Ezam Mohamad Noor (34); his deputy N. Gobalapkrishan (41); Keadilan vice-president Tian Chua (37); Saari Sungib (43), a member of its policymaking council; a party youth exco member Abdul Ghani Haroon (36); activist Hishamuddin Rais (50) and Raja Petra Kamarudin (49), director of the FreeAnwar Campaign.
Asked how many more would be held, Norian said: “That’s a secret.”
Syed Husin Ali, head of the Malaysian People’s Party and a former detainee, called for clarification on whether Mahathir personally ordered the arrests.
Norian said it was a police operation.