Human rights lawyer arrested for sedition in Malaysia

Eric Paulsen accused of insulting Islam after he tweeted that a government agency was spreading extremism
Human rights lawyer arrested for sedition in Malaysia

Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen (left) with fellow lawyer and PKR MP N. Surendran at the Dang Wangi police station in Kuala Lumpur following the former's arrest over a sedition charge (Credit: The Malaysian Insider)

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) co-founder Eric Paulsen was arrested Monday night in Brickfields, the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said in a tweet, just hours after police confirmed he was being investigated under the Sedition Act.

"@PDRMsia baru sahaja menangkap Eric Paulsen di Brickfields. (Police have just arrested Eric Paulsen in Brickfields)," Khalid tweeted at 9.40pm tonight.

Shortly after, LFL, through its Twitter account, posted that Paulsen was "just picked up by 20 over police, and headed to Dang Wangi, despite agreement to have investigations trow (tomorrow) at Bk (Bukit) Aman!"

Subsequently, LFL tweeted a picture of police at Paulsen's law firm, Daim and Gamany, where his laptop was confiscated by police.

Earlier today, it was reported that the the Inspector-General of Police had said that Paulsen would be investigated under the Sedition Act 1948, following the uproar over the human rights lawyer's posting on Twitter Sunday criticizing the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) for spreading extremism via Friday sermons.

Bernama also reported that Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin wanted police to take action against Paulsen.

"The relevant authorities should investigate Paulsen's statement and appropriate action be taken as many non-Muslims do not understand what Islam really is," Muhyiddin was quoted as saying by the national news agency.

Umno Youth today made a report against Paulsen at the Putrajaya district police headquarters.

The report was lodged by the movement's Religious Bureau chairman Azmir Yuzaimi Mohd Yunos, who said that police should take stern action against Paulsen as this was not the first time he had made a seditious statement via his Twitter account.

"He had many times before this made provocative remarks against Islam but after being criticised, the criticism just died like that.”

"This time, we want real stern action taken against him so that he does not repeat his misdeed," he said.

Meanwhile, Paulsen had also made a police report today after receiving death threats among the backlash from netizens over his tweet about Jakim.

He said that he had not meant to insult Islam.

"I have never referred to the religion of Islam in my tweet, I only criticize Jakim as an agency under the Prime Minister's Department," he told reporters at the Petaling Jaya police headquarters, after filing the report with his lawyer Latheefa Koya.

Paulsen said he was surprised to have been accused of criticizing Islam because of the posting.

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"When I said Friday, I meant it in the general sense," he said, adding that he had been receiving threats via social media, including on Twitter and through the WhatsApp mobile messaging service.

Among the threats, he said, included “You should be dead by now” and “Nak kena cincang mamat ni” (This guy is asking to be slashed).

Paulsen took down the tweet following the backlash.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said Paulsen's arrest sent a clear message.

"What's clear is Prime Minister Najib and his government have doubled down on their bet that intimidation and intolerance is the best way to hold on to power, and the rights of the Malaysian people are under threat as a result," Robertson said in a statement Tuesday.

Robertson said that it was "truly frightening" how Paulsen's statement had been criminalized, pointing out that it meant that the government was equating Jakim's actions with the embodiment of the religion itself.

"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," he said.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, who oversees Jakim, weighed in on the controversy as well.

He denied Paulsen's claim, saying that Friday sermons have never encouraged extremism or violence as alleged.

On the contrary, Jamil said, the sermon was a requirement in the Friday prayers which was delivered orally and carried educational elements to give advice on religion, to give inspiration and to create consciousness.

"It also conveys the national policies and current issues among the Muslims. Can the reminders among the Muslims be construed as extreme?" he said, adding that the allegation linking Jakim with extremism was an irresponsible act which should be viewed seriously.

Original stories: Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen arrested in sedition probe and Putrajaya using intimidation to hold on to power, says Human Rights Watch

Source: The Malaysian Insider

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