Stuart Grudgings http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings Stuart Grudgings's Profile Sun, 05 Oct 2014 21:45:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 Once reined in, Malaysia’s royals flex political muscle http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/05/malaysia-sultans-idUSL3N0RI3VZ20141005?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/10/05/once-reined-in-malaysias-royals-flex-political-muscle/#comments Sun, 05 Oct 2014 21:00:00 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=674 KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 6 (Reuters) – At the murky shore of a
fishing village on the Malaysian side of the Singapore Strait,
Ghazali Malik cleans out the mud and small stones tangled in his
boat’s fishing net.

He says his daily catch of fish, prawns and crabs has
slumped since land reclamation work began this year on a
controversial 2,000-hectare man-made island called Forest City,
a project between the Sultan of Johor and a Chinese developer.

“My net used to last up to years, but nowadays I have to
replace it after three months,” said the 24-year-old fisherman.

The mammoth project, which has drawn concern from Singapore
and environmental groups over its impact on the narrow channel,
is a sign of what critics say is the increasing political and
business influence of Malaysia’s traditional rulers, the
sultans.

A decline in support for the long-ruling coalition, led by
the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), at the last two
general elections has left a power vacuum. Analysts say that the
country’s nine traditional rulers have stepped into the void,
with the tacit support of the government.

“If the national opposition front were the ruling government
in Putrajaya (Malaysia’s seat of government) this would not have
happened,” said Abdul Aziz Bari, a constitutional law expert.

“…It shows that UMNO is so desperate to cling on to
power.”

A government crackdown on dissent has coincided with a
flurry of cases involving allegedly seditious remarks against
the traditional rulers. Out of more than a dozen prosecutions
under the colonial-era Sedition Act this year – most against
anti-government activists or opposition politicians – five have
centred on comments voiced about the sultans or their powers.

Aziz Bari is currently being investigated under the Sedition
Act over comments he made about a sultan.

The role of the sultans – descendants of centuries-old
ethnic Malay kingdoms – goes beyond the ceremonial. They wield
real power as the official guardians of Islam and can withhold
consent for the dissolution of state assemblies and appointments
of chief ministers. Many, including the sultans of Johor in the
south and Selangor, Malaysia’s richest state, have built up
large business interests.

The Johor and Selangor palaces declined to comment on the
issues when contacted by Reuters. The prime minister’s office
also declined comment, but some of his ministers have publicly
expressed their support for the Sedition Act and Malay royalty.

The sultans also make up a Conference of Rulers, which can
block changes to the federal constitution affecting the special
status held by majority Malays over minority Chinese and
Indians.

PERAK CRISIS

Many commentators trace the recent assertion of royal power
back to 2009, when the then Sultan of Perak state declined the
opposition’s request for fresh state elections after it had lost
its majority. The sultan allowed the ruling coalition to form
the state government.

The Perak crisis came a year after the opposition made
sweeping gains in a national election, handing the now
57-year-old ruling National Front its worst-ever election
setback.

“The reason they (the sultans) are asserting themselves is
the change in the political scenario in the country,” said Azmi
Sharom, a law professor at Universiti Malaya, the country’s
oldest university.

“That is not necessarily a problem as long as they work
within the constitution. However even pointing out what their
constitutional limits are you put yourself at risk for
sedition.”

A few days after speaking to Reuters, Azmi was charged under
the Sedition Act for saying that “what happened in Perak was
legally wrong” and the result of a “secret meeting”.

The Selangor sultan last month appointed a new chief
minister who had not been formally proposed by the opposition
coalition, in what analysts said was an unprecedented royal snub
of the established democratic process.

The sultan, Sharafuddin Idris Shah, said last month that
some politicians had misunderstood his role as only ceremonial.

“Politicians come and go … but my position as sultan and
ruler of Selangor will continue until the end of my days,” he
was quoted as saying by Malaysian media.

The sultans’ powers were pegged back under the 22-year-rule
of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who in 1993 passed
constitutional changes ending their immunity from prosecution.

The then leader of UMNO tapped into rising concern about
errant royal behaviour and extravagance. Although neutral
arbiters in theory, the sultans have traditionally been seen as
closer to the ruling party than the opposition due to their
shared role as guardians of ethnic Malay power.

ROYAL BUSINESS EMPIRE

Johor Sultan Ibrahim Ismail’s role in the state’s booming
property market and attempts to gain more policy clout have
raised concern from politicians and some investors.

“Hopefully he doesn’t go overboard, because it could affect
the economy,” said one Johor property investor, who asked not to
be identified because of the subject’s sensitivity.

However, a member of the ruling UMNO defended the sultan’s
right to pursue business interests.

“If it’s approved by the state and federal government, what
is the issue?,” said Sharir Samad, a member of parliament from
Johor. “It’s not an issue where he is taking somebody’s land,
and depriving business or an individual of his right to
property.”

This year, a proposed bill that would have given the sultan
broad powers over a new state Housing and Property Board was
revised amid cross-party opposition to say that the sultan could
only act on the advice of the chief minister.

But some are not convinced the changes are enough to limit
the sultan’s ability to influence policy in the Iskandar
economic zone, an international hub of property development and
tourism named after his father.

“The question is whether the chief minister dares to advise
him,” said Hassan Abdul Karim, the vice chairman of the main
opposition PKR party in Johor. “This is not good for the
democratic system in our country.”

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Islamic State ‘brand’ gains ground among Asian Muslim militants http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2014/09/26/islamic-state-brand-gains-ground-among-asian-muslim-militants/ http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/09/26/islamic-state-brand-gains-ground-among-asian-muslim-militants/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 12:47:49 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=672 (Filipino soldiers gather at a seized camp of Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo island in southern Philippines September 21, 2009. Philippine troops killed more than 30 Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and overran the rebels' main base on a remote island in the south of the country, a top military commander said on Tuesday. Picture taken September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Handout/Western Mindanao Command )

(Filipino soldiers gather at a seized camp of Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo island in southern Philippines September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Handout/Western Mindanao Command )

A threat by Philippine militants to kill a German hostage in a show of solidarity with Islamic State is the latest sign that the Middle East group’s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region.

Over 100 people from Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the southern Philippine region are believed by security officials and analysts to have gone to join Islamic State’s fight in Iraq and Syria. Malaysian and Indonesian militants have discussed forming a 100-strong Malay-speaking unit within Islamic State in Syria, according to a report from a well-known security group released this week.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads the U.S. Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, said on Thursday around 1,000 recruits from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq. He did not specify the countries or give a time-frame.

“That number could get larger as we go forward,” Locklear told reporters at the Pentagon. In addition to India, the Hawaii-based Pacific Command’s area of responsibility covers 36 countries, including Australia, China and other Pacific Ocean states. The command does not cover Pakistan.

In the region, thousands have sworn oaths of loyalty to Islamic State as local militant groups capitalise on a brand that has been fuelled by violent online videos and calls to jihad through social media, security analysts say. Security officials say this has disturbing implications for the region, especially when battle-hardened fighters return home from the Middle East.

The Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf group, which has earlier claimed links with al Qaeda and is led by a one-armed septuagenarian, has threatened to kill one of the two Germans it holds hostage by Oct. 10, according to messages distributed on Twitter. As well as $5.6 million in ransom, the group demanded that Germany halt its support for the U.S.-led bombing campaign launched against Islamic State this week.

Read the full story here.

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Islamic State ‘brand’ gains ground among Asian militants http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/26/us-southeast-asia-militants-idUSKCN0HK1V520140926?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/09/26/islamic-state-brand-gains-ground-among-asian-militants/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 01:06:35 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=669 MANILA (Reuters) – A threat by Philippine militants to kill a German hostage in a show of solidarity with Islamic State is the latest sign that the Middle East group’s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region.

Over 100 people from Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the southern Philippine region are believed by security officials and analysts to have gone to join Islamic State’s fight in Iraq and Syria. Malaysian and Indonesian militants have discussed forming a 100-strong Malay-speaking unit within Islamic State in Syria, according to a report from a well-known security group released this week.

Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads the U.S. Armed Forces’ Pacific Command, said on Thursday around 1,000 recruits from India to the Pacific may have joined Islamic State to fight in Syria or Iraq. He did not specify the countries or give a time-frame.

“That number could get larger as we go forward,” Locklear told reporters at the Pentagon. In addition to India, the Hawaii-based Pacific Command’s area of responsibility covers 36 countries, including Australia, China and other Pacific Ocean states. The command does not cover Pakistan.

In the region, thousands have sworn oaths of loyalty to Islamic State as local militant groups capitalize on a brand that has been fueled by violent online videos and calls to jihad through social media, security analysts say. Security officials say this has disturbing implications for the region, especially when battle-hardened fighters return home from the Middle East.

The Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf group, which has earlier claimed links with al Qaeda and is led by a one-armed septuagenarian, has threatened to kill one of the two Germans it holds hostage by Oct. 10, according to messages distributed on Twitter. As well as $5.6 billion in ransom, the group demanded that Germany halt its support for the U.S.-led bombing campaign launched against Islamic State this week.

A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry told a regular press briefing in Berlin that “threats are no appropriate way of influencing German foreign policy”, and that the ministry’s crisis group was working on the case.

The Abu Sayyaf, which beheaded a U.S. man it had taken hostage in 2001, has suffered from dwindling support and military setbacks over the past decade, and is now believed to have only about 300 followers based on remote islands off the southern Philippines.

OATH OF LOYALTY

Security officials doubt it has any links with Islamic State beyond pledging allegiance to the Middle Eastern group, and see it as a move by Abu Sayyaf to revive its fortunes and gain publicity. A senior leader of the group and several other members made an oath of loyalty to Islamic State in a video uploaded on YouTube in July, Philippines police and monitoring services have said.

“We believe that there is no direct link, that they are possibly sympathizers joining in the bandwagon to gain popular support,” said Ramon Zagala, a military spokesman. “We see this as a way to be known, because right now the Abu Sayyaf is in a decline. To directly say that ISIS (Islamic State) is here – there are no indications of that.”

The German man and woman, who were reportedly seized from a yacht in the South China Sea in April, are thought to be held on southern Jolo island by Abu Sayyaf fighters loyal to one-armed Radullan Sahiron. His group is also believed to be holding a Dutch and a Swiss hostage seized in May 2012 and a Japanese man.

The three governments have declined comment on the abductions.

Another Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, swore allegiance to Islamic State in the Youtube video, police officials and the monitoring services said. Speaking in Arabic, he and several other men read a statement swearing “loyalty and obedience in adversity and comfort” to Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before a prayer and shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), they said.

Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for an independent Islamic state but it has mainly been a kidnap-for-ransom gang operating in the lawless interiors of southern Philippines islands. The Philippines is mostly Christian but has a significant Muslim minority in the southern islands.

The region is the site of a long drawn-out rebellion by local Muslims against Manila’s rule, but Abu Sayyaf burst into prominence in 2000 after kidnapping 21 tourists and workers from a dive resort in nearby Malaysia.

They held the hostages, who included French, German, Finnish and South African nationals, for months on Jolo before freeing them for millions of dollars in ransom paid by then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, according to Philippine officials. Libya denied it paid a ransom but acknowledged government officials were involved in negotiations. Several of the hostages visited Tripoli after their release.

Abu Sayyaf is blamed for the worst militant attack in the Philippines, the sinking of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 in which 100 people were killed. But the group has declined in recent years, with top leaders either killed or too old.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mogato and Michaela Cabrera in Manila, Randy Fabi in Jakarta and Theodora D’Cruz in Singapore; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Modern day slavery rife in Malaysian factories that make our gadgets http://t.co/AptF4qhK74 http://twitter.com/StuartGrudgings/status/512101020437340160 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/09/17/modern-day-slavery-rife-in-malaysian-factories-that-make-our-gadgets-httpt-coaptf4qhk74/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 04:49:32 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=667 Modern day slavery rife in Malaysian factories that make our gadgets http://t.co/AptF4qhK74

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Islamic militant’s death sparks eulogies in Malaysia http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/15/us-syria-crisis-malaysia-idUSKBN0HA0N620140915?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/09/15/islamic-militants-death-sparks-eulogies-in-malaysia/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 08:49:22 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=663 KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The death of a Malaysian Islamist in Syria has sparked an outpouring of eulogies on social media, including from his former political party, underlining sympathy for the militants’ cause that is creating a security headache for the government.

Lotfi Ariffin, a former activist in the Islamist PAS party that forms part of Malaysia’s opposition alliance, had attracted a large following on social media with regular posts of pictures, video and calls to jihad from the Syrian front line.

He died on Sunday from wounds suffered last week in an assault by Syrian government forces which also killed another Malaysian fighter called Mohammad Fadhlan Shahidi, according to postings on Facebook by a third Malaysian militant in Syria.

The Malaysians have said they were fighting for Ajnad al-Sham, a rebel group that operates near the capital Damascus and which has recently distanced itself from more militant groups such as Islamic State (IS) and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, a member of the PAS central committee and the son of its spiritual leader, praised Lotfi as a “martyr” in a Facebook posting and also recounted a religious anecdote from what he said was Lotfi’s final visit to Malaysia last year when he helped with PAS flood-relief efforts.

The party’s community service wing, Jabatan Amal, also posted eulogies to Lotfi, who had reportedly been the youth information chief for the party in Kedah state, and published a picture of the dead, or dying, fighter on its Facebook page.

“We pray he achieves the reward of blessings … and to be rewarded his ambition for martyrdom,” Mahfuz Omar, the PAS information chief was quoted as saying by the Malaysian Insider news site.

PAS, which has millions of voters in Malaysia and disavows militant tactics, has said it terminated Lotfi’s party membership in May. A party spokesman declined to comment on Lotfi.

Security officials believe dozens of people from Muslim-majority Malaysia have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, including for the hardline IS group. Police have arrested at least 19 suspected militants loyal to IS this year and say they uncovered their plan to bomb a Carlsberg brewery near the capital, Kuala Lumpur.[ID:nL2N0QQ0BI]

Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the IS militants in a statement in August, saying their actions were “counter to our faith, our culture, and our common humanity”. Najib’s ruling party has embraced more conservative Islamic positions in recent years, stepping up a drive to vilify Shia Muslims, for example.

The savvy use of Facebook and other social media by Malaysian militants in the Middle East has helped them attract thousands of followers and pull in more recruits.

Fadhlan, a Malaysian in his early 20s who reportedly died last week in the same battle as Lotfi, had said in a previous video posted on Facebook that he had been inspired to travel to Syria in May by Lotfi’s online accounts.

Posts about Lotfi’s death on Facebook had attracted hundreds of comments by Monday, most of them praising his sacrifice.

“I shed tears when I think about how fortunate my brothers are; they are in Syria to defend our religion. May they have all the protection and blessing from Allah,” wrote one Facebook user called Hassan Basri Hashim.

(Additional reporting Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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With sedition dragnet, Malaysia takes step back to Mahathir era http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/07/us-malaysia-sedition-idUSKBN0H203S20140907?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/09/07/with-sedition-dragnet-malaysia-takes-step-back-to-mahathir-era/#comments Sun, 07 Sep 2014 04:49:37 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=661 KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian authorities are carrying out the broadest crackdown on the political opposition and social activists since the era of strongman leader Mahathir Mohamad, as traditionalists in the long-ruling ethnic Malay party appear to gain the upper hand.

The setback for civil liberties in the multi-ethnic former British colony, which had appeared set on a path of greater openness just two years ago, comes as democracy retreats across mainland Southeast Asia following a military coup in Thailand and fading reform hopes in Myanmar and Cambodia.

Susan Loone, a reporter at online news site Malaysiakini, which is critical of the government, was the latest to be detained by police on Thursday under the colonial-era Sedition Act, days after a law professor was charged over comments in an online news article on a 2009 political crisis.

Prosecutors have charged four people with sedition in the past two weeks, including the professor, with new police investigations against opposition figures or activists being announced frequently.

This year, seven opposition politicians, six of them members of parliament, have been charged with crimes, including sedition, for things they have said. Another has been convicted.

The opposition’s de facto leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was convicted and sentenced to jail in March on a sodomy charge that rights groups say was politically motivated.

The three-party opposition, which has eroded the ruling coalition’s majority in two straight elections, says the 1948 Sedition Act is being employed selectively against its members, allies and social activists to undermine the alliance.

The sedition law criminalizes speech with an undefined “seditious tendency”.

Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said the prosecutions were reminiscent of so-called Operation Lalang in 1987 under Mahathir, when more than 100 opposition politicians and activists were arrested under an old Internal Security Act (ISA) which allowed detention without trial.

“The parameters are basically the same – you are using an antiquated draconian law to go after the opposition,” he said.

The reason for the crackdown is unclear, but pressure has been building on Prime Minister Najib Razak from conservatives in his ruling United Malays National Party (UMNO) to take a tougher line against opponents.

The charismatic Mahathir, who led Malaysia for 22 years until 2003 and remains an influential conservative force, announced two weeks ago he was withdrawing support for Najib.

In a savagely critical blog post, he said Najib’s policies had “destroyed interracial ties” and led to an increase in crime in general.

“Mahathir accused Najib of being weak. I think this is a very strong signal Najib is trying to send to say that ‘I am not weak’,” said Ong Kian Ming, an opposition member of parliament.

Mahathir, a defender of majority ethnic Malay rights over minority ethnic Chinese and Indians, used tough security laws to stifle dissent and has lamented Najib’s repeal of the Internal Security Act.

Najib, a self-described moderate whose reformist plans were dealt a setback by a weak election performance last year, pledged in 2012 to repeal the Sedition Act and says he intends to replace it with a new law by the end of next year.

REFORMIST?

But many senior UMNO leaders are opposed to that and also want him to restore the ISA.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the prosecutions or on comparisons to the Mahathir era. In a statement on Aug. 30, a government spokesman said sedition cases had to be tried under existing laws until new legislation was ready, and were a “matter for the courts”.

Sources close to Najib say he retains his reformist drive, but is fighting a rearguard action against the conservatives.

Shahidan Kassim, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, was quoted by media on Friday as saying the government had only pledged to review the Sedition Act, not abolish it. Najib has said he is committed to repealing it.

“Not everyone around the PM is on the same page with him,” said Saifuddin Abdullah, an UMNO moderate and former deputy minister. “I hope this is not a move to fail the prime minister in many of the things he is trying to do.”

Supporters of the sedition law say it is needed to clamp down on inflammatory actions that could stir up ethnic or religious tension in the diverse nation of 29 million.

But although some people aligned with UMNO or Malay rights groups have been charged under the law, it is used far more often against anti-government activists or the opposition.

N. Surendran, a lawyer and opposition member of parliament, was charged with sedition last month for saying that the verdict in Anwar’s trial was “flawed, defensive, and insupportable”, a view shared by various international human rights groups.

Loone, the journalist, was arrested and later released on bail after Malay rights groups lodged a police report about an article she wrote quoting an arrested opposition politician saying he was treated like “a criminal” in police custody.

The opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition says electoral calculations may be behind the arrests, which would result in by-elections if the legislators who are suspects are found guilty.

“What we are seeing is thus a blatant and shameless attempt by Najib to hijack democracy by having duly elected lawmakers from Pakatan to be stripped of their democratic entitlements and disqualified from contesting in the subsequent by-elections,” Anwar, who is free pending an appeal, said in a statement.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Malaysian law professor charged in crackdown on dissent http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/02/us-malaysia-sedition-idUSKBN0GX0P220140902?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/09/02/malaysian-law-professor-charged-in-crackdown-on-dissent/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 08:55:40 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=659 KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian prosecutors charged a high-profile law professor with sedition on Tuesday for an opinion he voiced on a political crisis that occurred five years ago, extending a recent crackdown on dissent from opposition politicians to academia.

Lawyers said the charge against Azmi Sharom, a lecturer at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and who writes a regular newspaper column, could have a chilling effect on freedom of speech as the government wavers on its pledges to expand civil liberties.

Four opposition politicians have been charged and another convicted this year under the Sedition Act, a relic of the British colonial era intended to keep a tight lid on racial tensions and social unrest in the multi-ethnic country. Four sedition charges have been pressed in the past nine days.

“There clearly now appears to be an attempt to create an environment of fear and self-censorship such that people now no longer take it upon themselves to comment on what is going on,” said Andrew Khoo, co-chairperson of the Malaysian Bar Council’s human rights committee.

Khoo and Azmi’s lawyer Gobind Singh said they could not recall the last time an academic was charged under the 1948 law.

Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged in 2011 that the law, which criminalizes speech with an undefined “seditious tendency” against the government or which could upset racial harmony, would be repealed and replaced by new legislation.

Three years later, after a weak election result for the government last year that fanned racial divisions and emboldened conservatives in Najib’s long-ruling party, the proposed new National Harmony Bill remains far from being passed into law.

Critics say Najib has caved in to calls from within his majority ethnic Malay party to get tougher on the opposition, which has gained in the past two elections, and on online news sites that carry strong criticism of government policies.

The flurry of sedition charges comes six months after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to five years in jail, in what rights groups said was a politically motivated case aimed at ending his career.

The government says the new bill is taking time because of extensive consultations with civil society groups and that it expects to present a draft to parliament by the end of 2015.

“Like other countries, we are working to find the right balance between freedom of speech and national harmony in the age of online media,” a government spokesperson said last week.

FADING PROMISE

Najib made civil liberties reform a hallmark of his leadership after becoming prime minister in 2009, saying Malaysia needed to adapt to the modern era. His government repealed the draconian Internal Security Act, but human rights groups have said that the replacement legislation is in some ways just as repressive as the old law. Detention without trial powers were restored under a penal code amendment last year.

Azmi, a ponytailed British-educated academic, has been a commentator on legal and political issues in Malaysia for years. He pleaded not guilty and requested a trial on the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of a 5,000 ringgit ($1,600) fine or three years in prison or both.

The charge against him relates to an Aug. 14 article on the Malay Mail Online site in which he was quoted as saying that the collapse of an opposition state government in 2009 was “legally wrong” and resulted from a “secret meeting”.

The opposition has long disputed the role played in that crisis by the Perak state sultan, who declined an opposition request to dissolve the state assembly for fresh elections and accepted a new government led by the ruling party. A senior opposition politician, the late Karpal Singh, was convicted in February for his comments on the Perak crisis.

Azmi said in a statement after posting bail that he was shocked by the charge, adding that his comments had been based on established case law and democratic principles.

“They were given in my capacity as a law lecturer of 24 years standing,” he said.

Singh, Azmi’s lawyer, said more sedition charges would likely be laid in the coming weeks. At least two other opposition members of parliament are being investigated for remarks they made.

“We have not seen the last of it and there are going to be many others,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Trinna Leong; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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Malaysian militants bought bomb material for planned attack: official http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/21/us-malaysia-islamicstate-idUSKBN0GL0BQ20140821?feedType=RSS&feedName=everything&virtualBrandChannel=11563 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/08/21/malaysian-militants-bought-bomb-material-for-planned-attack-official/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 05:15:17 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=657 KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Suspected Malaysian militants loyal to the extremist Islamic State movement bought bomb-making material ahead of a proposed attack on a Carlsberg brewery near the capital Kuala Lumpur, a top anti-terrorism official said.

The plan, which the official said was at a “discussion” stage, would be the first time Southeast Asian militants inspired by Islamic State’s rise have sought to launch a major attack at home, adding to officials’ fears of a domestic “blowback” from Islamic State’s expansion in Syria and Iraq.

Ayob Khan Mydin, the police counter-terrorism division’s deputy chief, told Reuters that the group of 19 suspected militants had attained aluminum powder, which is often used as an ingredient in bombs.

“In terms of ideology and intention it was very clear,” Ayob Khan said in an interview. “It would have been carried out.”

The group, seven of whom have been charged under anti-terrorism and weapons laws, had discussed bombing the Danish beer-maker’s factory in Petaling Jaya on the outskirts of the capital as well as other targets such as pubs, Ayob Khan said.

Alcohol is forbidden under Islamic rules, but is widely available in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia said in a response to Reuters’ questions that it had taken “necessary steps to ensure security at our premises, as employee safety is a priority”.

Ayob Khan said that 12 of the suspects had to be released due to lack of evidence tying them to specific plans for an attack or to join the banned Islamic State.

Islamic State’s sweep through northern Iraq, bringing it close to Baghdad and in control of the second city, Mosul, has energized radical Muslim followers in Malaysia and Indonesia, partly due to teachings that “the final battle” would take place in the greater Syrian region.

RECRUITMENT THROUGH FACEBOOK

At least 20 Malaysians and up to 500 Indonesians are estimated by security officials to have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Indonesia’s government this month banned support for Islamic State and warned its citizens not to join their fight in the Middle East, according to media reports.

“Our information is that thousands of people have pledged loyalty,” Sri Yunanto, of Indonesia’s National Counter Terrorism Agency, said last week.

Malaysian officials believe that a Malaysian, 26-year-old factory worker Ahmad Tarmimi, carried out a suicide attack at a police station in Iraq in May.

Despite the arrests, the group’s Malaysian supporters had continued to send followers to Syria, said Ayob Khan.

“We are very sure that if we allow them to go to Syria they will come back with the expertise and experience. Their ideology will be stronger than ever,” he said.

Ayob Khan, who has worked in counter-terrorism since the early 1990s, said Islamic State sympathizers were attracting a small number of Malaysians from a wide variety of backgrounds via recruiting on social media, particularly Facebook, which they also used to raise funds.

Among the 19 suspects arrested between April and June were a municipal council member, religious students and a food stall worker, and their ages ranged from 20 to 54, he said.

In contrast, Malaysians who joined the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiah (JI) movement in the 1990s and 2000s tended to take longer to recruit and were often veterans of conflict in Afghanistan, Ayob Khan said.

“With JI, it took one year to be recruited,” he said. “This group, in one or two days, they will take an oath.”

(Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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In Malaysia, Islam’s legal advance divides families and nation http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2014/07/14/in-malaysia-islams-legal-advance-divides-families-and-nation/ http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/07/14/in-malaysia-islams-legal-advance-divides-families-and-nation/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 08:44:00 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=651 (Deepa Subramaniam, 30, speaks during an interview in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur July 3, 2014. Subramaniam's estranged spouse converted from Hinduism to Islam in 2012, after their nine-year marriage broke down, taking the name Izwan Abdullah. He then converted their children to Islam, giving him a strong case under Islamic law, or shariah, to take over their custody - which a shariah court granted him five months later. Subramaniam fought back, last year obtaining a court protection order based on her accounts of domestic violence and in April winning a high court ruling that dissolved their marriage and gave her custody of the children. Two days later Izwan took their son Mithran from outside her home in the town of Seremban, 60 km (37 miles) south of Kuala Lumpur. In Subramaniam's custody battle, and another similar case, Malaysia's national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, has declined to act on judges' orders for children to be returned to their mothers, citing competing orders from the civil courts and state shariah courts. His stance has been backed by the home minister. Picture taken July 3, 2014. To match Feature MALAYSIA-ISLAM/ REUTERS/Samsul Said )

(Deepa Subramaniam, 30, speaks during an interview in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur July 3, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said )

Deepa Subramaniam would not let go of her son, clinging to five-year-old Mithran’s leg even as the car into which he had been bundled began to accelerate.

The 30-year-old, a Hindu in Muslim-majority Malaysia, says she was dragged along the stone-strewn road outside her house until she dropped to the ground, scratched and sobbing, as her ex-husband drove off.

The alleged abduction on April 9, detailed by Subramaniam in a police report and witnessed by a neighbor, was a painful loss for the mother-of-two, who has not seen Mithran since and fears her ex-spouse’s conversion to Islam will win him custody.

The case has become a focal point of tensions over the widening role of Islam, which critics say is threatening Malaysia’s secular core and exacerbating fraught relations between ethnic Malays, who are Muslims, and minority Chinese and Indians.

Subramaniam’s estranged spouse converted from Hinduism to Islam in 2012, after their nine-year marriage broke down, taking the name Izwan Abdullah.

He then converted Mithran and their now eight-year-old daughter to Islam, giving him a strong case under Islamic law, or shariah, to take over their custody – which a shariah court granted him five months later.

“In five minutes, the children read some verses and were converted,” said Subramaniam. “In 10 years, he never gave us money, he enjoyed his life and abandoned me countless times. Under what characteristic are they giving my children to him?”

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I’ve regained control of my Twitter account. Thanks all for the warnings, and sorry. http://twitter.com/StuartGrudgings/status/488575659481243648 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/2014/07/14/ive-regained-control-of-my-twitter-account-thanks-all-for-the-warnings-and-sorry/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 06:48:09 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/stuart-grudgings/?p=653 I’ve regained control of my Twitter account. Thanks all for the warnings, and sorry.

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