Malaysia takes hard line on Internet `subversives'

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The Independent Online
IN THE latest sign of an increasingly authoritarian crackdown on alleged "subversion", police in Malaysia used a Draconian security law to arrest two people alleged to have spread rumours of riots using an Internet news group.

The two unnamed Malaysians, said by police to be in their early twenties, were detained yesterday after an investigation of Internet service providers.

According to the inspector-general of police, Abdul Rahim Noor, they were responsible for rumours that Indonesian migrant workers are hoarding knives and machetes and intending to riot in advance of their planned deportation at the end of this week.

"They picked up the rumours, which spread like wildfire throughout the country," said Mr Abdul Rahim. Under the Internal Security Act, a relic of British colonial rule that is denounced as an oppressive law by human rights groups, suspects can be held for up to two years without trial, although the inspector-general said 60 days would be enough in this case.

"We are confident of netting more people and determining the source of the rumours because the 60-day detention period is a long time," he said.

The rumours caused near panic in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, last Friday as people left work early and cleared out supplies of milk and instant noodles from supermarket shelves.

There were predictions that trouble was about to spread in a red light district named Chow Kit, where illegal Indonesian immigrants were said to have attacked police.

The police set up a telephone hotline to denounce the rumours, and the incident was condemned by government ministers as being the work of subversives.

The government of the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has become increasingly touchy over the past year, as a series of disasters, including economic hardship and devastating smog from forest fires in Indonesia, has dented the country's image as one of South-East Asia's most stable and prosperous countries.

"We have to take the most stern action," said the deputy home minister, Tajol Rhosli Ghazali, this week.

"We fear that with the advent of the Commonwealth Games, more rumours will be floated," he said. "Those trying to derail the Commonwealth Games are also trying to sabotage the country and we'll resort to the toughest action."

Malaysia has said it will deport 200,000 illegal Indonesians by Saturday, and large numbers are believed to have gone to ground in anticipation of the deadline.

In March, eight of them were killed after riots at a detention camp were brutally suppressed by police.

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