Malaysia rounds up government critics

September 25, 1998

Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has begun carrying out his threat to crush any support in the universities for his sacked deputy by arresting a number of leading academics and student leaders in the past few days.

Those arrested under the internal security act, which allows detention without trial, for supporting Anwar Ibrahim include the student affairs rector of the International Islamic University, Siddiq Baba; the chairman of the Institute of Policy Research, Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar; and the president of the National Muslim Students Association of Malaysia, Amidi Datuk Abdul Manan. Other university academics are said to be under investigation.

So far, 11 of Mr Anwar's closest supporters have been detained. Mr Anwar's wife is said to be under house arrest because of her stated intention of leading Mr Anwar's movement in his absence.

University academics have said that university staff and students should be free to express their peaceful support for Mr Anwar and to criticise the government. They say such debate has been absent from the country's universities for too long and that Dr Mahathir's crushing of support for Mr Anwar, along with the intimidation of academics and students is evidence of the lack of political freedom.

Thousands of university students and many academics were among the tens of thousands who clashed with riot police in and around Kuala Lumpur during the Queen's visit this week.

The students were protesting against Mr Anwar's arrest after 500 riot police broke through a barricade of students surrounding his home on Sunday. Tear gas, water cannons and batons were used on the protesters. Large numbers of students were among those arrested. Foreign journalists report that many protesters had been hurt, but officials are not releasing details.

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