Malaysian police arrest media CEO, editors over sedition

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Police have arrested five people from a Malaysian media group, including a top executive, on suspicion of sedition, their lawyers and authorities said on Tuesday, over a news report concerning punishments meted out under Islamic law.

Publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group, Ho Kay Tat, and chief executive of the group’s The Malaysian Insider news portal, Jahabar Sadiq, were arrested on Tuesday when they arrived at a police station in the capital Kuala Lumpur to give a statement, the company said.

Police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, confirmed their detention, but provided no further details. “No tolerance towards any seditious activities,” Khalid tweeted in Malay.

Late on Monday, police and officials from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) raided the offices of The Malaysian Insider news portal and arrested three of its editors.

Syahredzan Johan, a lawyer representing the company, said the editors were arrested under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act. The latter concerns improper use of a network service that is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character.

Malaysia’s Sedition Act, which dates from British colonial times, criminalizes speech with an undefined “seditious tendency”. Critics have said the government has used the law to silence dissent, preventing open debate and discussion.

The government says the law is necessary to clamp down on inflammatory actions that could stir ethnic or religious tension. Prime Minister Najib Razak, who had pledged to repeal the act in 2012, bolstered it last year to protect the sanctity of Islam and the Malaysia’s traditional rulers, the sultans.

The two executives arrested on Tuesday will be held in jail overnight, The Malaysian Insider reported.

A remand application for the three editors was rejected by a magistrate, the portal’s lawyer Syahredzan tweeted on Tuesday.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) called for their immediate release.

“CIJ and SEAPA view these arrests under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act as an assault on media freedom and an act of intimidation in using police powers of arrests and detention against the four editors and Ho,” CIJ said in a statement.

Authorities in socially conservative Malaysia have conducted a series of arrests since last August for sedition, detaining opposition politicians, activists, and academics. Nurul Izzah Anwar, the daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was arrested for sedition this month over a speech made in parliament.

The arrests were over an article that said the Confederation of Rulers - Malaysia’s monarchy - had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law that could allow the use of the Islamic punishment, hudud, in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Islamist opposition party is calling for strict enforcement of sharia, or Islamic law, for Muslims that includes amputations and stonings.

Reporting By Trinna Leong; Editing by Jeremy Laurence