On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Arrests shift the heat to court

The opposition parties have  predictably condemned the arrests as an
assault on the rule of  law.

They also linked the arrests to  the
purported erosion of support  for Umno
and dissension within  the party
following its supreme  council proposal
that the top two  posts should not be

DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang  described the
arrests as a “dark  shadow on Malaysian
democracy  in the start of the new

Many Umno members, particularly at grassroots level, have  called for action against opposition figures
who made unsubstantiated allegations.

There has also been pressure  to ban
Harakah or to restrict the  sale of the
PAS newsletter to  party offices

Umno Youth exco member  Nur Jazlan
Mohamed, for example, said publications must be responsible for what they

He said freedom of expression  did not
mean freedom to slander,  and if no
action was taken, there  would be
publications which  would attempt to push
the line  and publish seditious

Jazlan's argument would naturally be rebutted by others who  see the action against Harakah  as a move to stifle alternative  views.

It is interesting to note that the 
authorities had not arrested 
these opposition leaders under 
the Internal Security Act.

Rightly or wrongly, the authorities are taking court action  which the Opposition has always  argued for 
produce the evidence in open court and let the  accused defend ourselves.

The message seems to be that  the
Government would no longer  tolerate any
challenge to legislation. Those who break the law  must be prepared to face the  consequences.

By charging them in open  court, the
offenders would be  able to defend
themselves. At  the same time, the
authorities  would have to produce
strong  evidence if they want to win  their cases.

The foreign media has continuously pointed out that the arrests began on
Wednesday, the  day Datuk Seri Dr
Mahathir Mohamad left for a two-week overseas vacation.

That means Deputy Prime  Minister and
Home Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad 
Badawi would be left to handle 
the matter.

Abdullah denied allegations of  a
crackdown, saying a thorough  police
investigation had been  carried out
before the arrests  were made.

He also denied that the action  amounted
to suppression of free  speech. “Anyone
can say what  they want about anything
but  there are also laws. It is necessary
for us to respect the law,''  he

Umno leaders have pointed out  that the
pro-opposition foreign  media have
refused to acknowlege that many opposition leaders who talked about
eroding  support for Umno were rejected  in the elections.

Defending the arrests, government leaders said sedition  charges had been filed against  politicians since the 70s.

There are no special privileges  or
special laws for opposition  leaders,
they said. Being oppositionists does not give them the  right to say anything they want,  including defaming others.

Whatever the argument, the  bigger picture
would be how the  younger voters perceive
the arrests.

There is also the question of  whether it
is wise to arrest the  opposition leaders
and unwittingly give them a new lease of 
life after their defeat in the elections.

The court proceedings would  provide
opposition parties with  publicity, in
the absence of new  issues.

For now, the Government  would have to
convince Malaysians of the necessity to uphold 
the law and that those who speak 
of the rule of law should not 
break the law themselves. Politicians will always claim they are  on the right side.

Voters and politicians alike  should
check the websites set up  by political
parties and the various interest groups.

While mainstream newspapers  have been
sued by Barisan Nasional politicians and businessmen for their reports, it is
amazing how publications and websites offering alternative views  have been able to escape similar  suits.

One reason could be because  those
slandered have refused to  take action,
preferring not to  give these groups more
credibility or simply because these 
groups may not be financially 

These victimised people also  do not wish
to be accused of stifling the freedom of expression.

It would not be an easy job as  some
would see the arrests as a  sledgehammer
approach, but nobody says running a government 
is easy.

To everyone's interests, it is  best for
all Malaysians to refrain  from making
unnecessary comments on the cases.

Supporters of these politicians  should
not cast any doubt on the  integrity of
the courts and its officers. Let the courts listen to the  arguments of both sides and let  justice run its full course.