Lawyer Eric Paulsen’s arrest yesterday over a tweet on the country’s federal Islamic authority shows a looming “human rights disaster” here, a global rights watchdog said.
Published: January 13, 2015 08:43 AM
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 ― Lawyer Eric Paulsen’s arrest yesterday over a tweet on the country’s federal Islamic authority shows a looming “human rights disaster” here, a global rights watchdog said.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division’s deputy director claimed that the rights of Malaysians are now “under threat” due to Putrajaya’s bet of using “intolerance and intimidation” to keep its grip on power.
“Malaysia is rapidly becoming a human rights disaster zone. It’s shocking the IGP has little interest or commitment in stopping the ongoing plague of suspicious deaths in police custody but he has all the time in the world to stifle free speech and trumpet over twitter the arrest of a prominent human rights lawyer like Eric Paulsen within minutes after it happened,” he said in an emailed statement late last night.
Lawyers for Liberty’s executive director Paulsen was said to have been arrested by 20 police officers last night, for accusing Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) of spreading extremism through Friday sermons. He was already scheduled to voluntarily show up for police questioning today.
Last Friday, Paulsen posted on Twitter, “Jakim is promoting extremism every Friday. Govt needs to address that if serious about extremism in Malaysia.”
Robertson today also drew parallels between the authorities’ treatment of Paulsen’s tweet on JAKIM and DAP lawmaker R.S.N Rayer’s “Celaka Umno” remark ― where he noted comments on a government agency or political party are considered national threats.
“Criminalizing Eric Paulsen’s tweet is truly frightening because it shows that some in the Malaysian government are apparently conflating the actions of a government agency, JAKIM, with the embodiment of a national religion.
“It’s similar to verbal attacks like ‘damn UMNO’ against a political party being considered as a threat to national security,” he said.
Rayer was charged with sedition last year, while Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed last Saturday that Paulsen will be probed under the colonial-era Sedition Act 1948.
Robertson also claimed “respect for principles of human rights and democracy is breaking down” under the Najib administration, with any remarks potentially turning seditious if disliked by the authorities.
“There’s no escaping a conclusion that the government’s actions are severely threatening freedom of expression and fostering a climate of increased political and religious intolerance.”
Late last night, Khalid trumpeted Paulsen’s arrest, also warning Malaysians in a series of tweets to not threaten the “fabric” of the country’s diverse society or “conspire” with the lawyer to “threaten Malaysia’s peace and harmony”.
Khalid had last Saturday posted a picture of Paulsen with the text of the now-deleted tweet, which was branded with the word “Biadap” (rude) in bold, red letters.
Paulsen retorted the next day, questioning why Khalid initiated action against him and Ko based on demands from pro-Umno Internet users.