Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Eric Paulsen, a Malaysian lawyer and activist, co-founder of Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), was arrested yesterday on charges of promoting "sedition".
Mr Paulsen posted a message on Tweeter, later removed, in which he accused the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), an agency of Malaysia's federal government, of spreading "extremism" that fuelled sectarian violence and attacks against minorities, particularly Christians.
Instead of opening an investigation against the prominent lawyer, Malaysian authorities chose to charge him right away with "sedition".
After investigators detained Paulsen (pictured), they applied for a four-day remand but the court only gave a two-day remand order. Thus, Paulsen can go free tomorrow, albeit still subject to the investigation.
The lawyer's defence team slammed the arrest as a blatant "abuse of power by police," especially by the inspector-general of police.
His arrest is clearly the result of political pressures from top government officials. In fact, following Paulsen's critical tweet, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin urged police to take action against the lawyer. Soon after, the latter was arrested.
Deputy Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Noor Rashid Ibrahim said that Paulsen was detained for posting a "seditious" tweet that "sparked anger among the public", claiming that if no actions were taken to such comment, it might lead to racial disturbances.
An investigation was launched against the activist under Section 4 of the Sedition Act 1948. He is believed to be held at the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur.
Everything began when some netizens targeted the lawyer, who had received death threats in the past, for his tweet. For them, his words are a form of Islamophobia and an attack on religion. Even the Islamic youth movement Umno called for exemplary punishment against Paulsen.
However, in the contentious online message, all the activist did was to urge the authorities to monitor Jakim's Friday sermons because in his view they promoted "extremism" and labelled Christians as "enemies of Islam".
The activist's arrest is no accident, but comes at a time of heightened inter-religious tensions and attacks against minorities, particularly Christians.
A controversial Appeal Court ruling issued last year has led to raids and abuses, including the seizure of the Bibles, attacks on churches, and desecration of graves.
The Catholic weekly The Herald has also been banned from using the word Allah even though a Latin-Malay dictionary published 400 years ago shows that the word Allah was already in use to describe the Biblical God in the local language.
Malaysia is a nation of more than 28 million people, mostly Muslims (60 per cent). Christians are the third largest religious group (after Buddhists) with more than 2.6 million members.