KUALA LUMPUR, AFP
A Malaysian minister repeated charges Sunday that supporters of jailed opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim tried to enlist Indonesian activists to stage violent protests here aimed at toppling the government.
“There is no group in Indonesia, which is preoccupied with their own internal problems, who want to meddle in our affairs but it our people who had invited them and failed,” Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar was quoted as saying by the Bernama news agency.
Malaysia last week detained without trial seven pro-Anwar activists in a bid to derail a rally on Saturday marking “Black (April) 14” — the second anniversary of Anwar’s conviction for abuse of power.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who claims that activists planned to use explosives, said the detentions nipped plans for a violent, Indonesian-style protest in the bud.
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the peaceful end to Saturday’s gathering showed that there was no basis to detain the seven.
In a statement Lim, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, again challenged Mahathir to prove his assertions of a “secret cell” which was planning to use weapons and explosives and to recruit Indonesians.
Otherwise, Lim said, the premier should “stop his politics of desperation and bankruptcy”and withdraw the claims.
A crowd estimated at between 2,000-3,000 gathered Saturday outside the offices of the national human rights commission (Suhakam), as opposition legislators led by Anwar’s wife handed in a memorandum on rights abuses.
Police had banned the rally but did not try to disperse the crowd.
Anwar, the former deputy prime minister who was once Mahathir’s heir apparent, is serving a total of 15 years in jail after being convicted in separate trials of abuse of power and sodomy.
Anwar says Mahathir orchestrated a conspiracy to frame him because he was seen as a political threat. The premier denies interfering in the judicial process.
Mahathir, quoted by Sunday newspapers, said Saturday’s gathering failed to achieve what he called its target of 50,000 participants because instigators had been locked up.
“I think it is because they have no leaders to incite them … their leaders have been detained by police,” he said.
The government’s use of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows indefinite detention without trial, was apparently effective, he said.
The premier, who was speaking Saturday, said he had information that”certain parties” had gone to Indonesia to try to recruit support.
“They proposed a gathering of 50,000 people and we learnt that they told certain people that they wanted to have it a la Indonesia, that is through violence. But (it) did not happen.”
Mahathir’s ruling coalition evoked the specter of Indonesian-style unrest in a slick advertising campaign before the 1999 elections.
Opposition leaders said at the time the “fear and scare” campaign had proved effective in dissuading ethnic Chinese from supporting them.
Amnesty International and local rights groups, including Suhakam, have strongly criticized the use of the ISA.
On Sunday the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, which represents 555,000 workers, called for the seven to be either charged or released.
Its president Zainal Rampak also urged authorities to let families visit the detainees. But he said the congress was not in favor of violent demonstrations.
Rais Yatim, minister for legal affairs, hit back at the government-appointed Suhakam, saying its “inappropriate comments” gave a boost to reformasi (reform) activities.
“The general impression now is that Suhakam is supporting the reformasi activists,” the New Sunday Times quoted him as saying.