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Malaysia increasingly intolerant of dissent - rights group
KUALA LUMPUR |
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia arrested nearly 1,000 anti-government protestors in 2009, signaling "heightened intolerance", an influential and independent human rights group said on Wednesday.
Political tensions rose in this Southeast Asian country following record 2008 polls losses by the government now led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Tensions are still high and could rise further with the sodomy trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim resuming next month.
"Because the prime minister sought to regain his losses in 2008, 2009 saw a huge crackdown on dissent and the opposition," said John Liu, a coordinator with SUARAM or Voice of the Malaysian People group.
Najib took office in April last year pledging political and economic reforms to revive his coalition and woo foreign investments to the Southeast Asian country.
The rise in political tensions and increasing competition from faster reforming regional neighbours like Indonesia have weighed on investor sentiment towards Malaysia where investment has languished.
Since taking office, Najib has released most of the detainees held under the Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows for detention without trial which has been used against government critics in the past and promised more tolerance to criticism.
But SUARAM in its annual report released on Wednesday said that despite the pledge, 167 people were arrested in May last year for protesting a putsch that unseated the opposition from the northern state of Perak where it had ruled.
An August 2009 rally calling for the abolition of the ISA saw 589 people arrested.
"Close to a thousand people were arrested by the police for various acts of peaceful protest, including by holding candlelight vigils, wearing black and even participating in a hunger strike," the report said.
Most of those arrested were subsequently released without being charged, but the report said opposition politicians have since been investigated for offences including sedition.
Newspapers run by the country's three main opposition parties were recently threatened with closure for failing to abide by conditions imposed by the government, which requires an annual permit for all publications.
(Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by Sugita Katyal)
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