Malaysia ex-PM Mahathir says recent arrests of journalists risk turning Malaysia into a police state

KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has spoken out on the recent arrests of journalists, warning that it could turn the country into a police state.

In a brief video uploaded on the blog Apanama today, Tun Dr Mahathir questioned the arrests of journalists from The Edge Media Group last month.

"The reporters from The Edge were arrested for supposedly saying seditious (things), I don't think that is the right way to use power," Dr Mahathir was quoted saying by the Malaysiakini news portal.

According to Malaysiakini, the video did not have a clear start and ending, but Dr Mahathir appeared to be referring to Prime Minister Najib Razak in his comments.

"Of course he will say it is not him, it's the police," Dr Mahathir was quoted saying. "But we don't want a police state where police come and arrest people," he added.

Three editors from news portal The Malaysian Insider, which is owned by The Edge Media Group, were arrested on March 30 over a report which alleged that Malaysia's conference of rulers had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law that would pave the way for hudud, or the Islamic criminal code, to be enacted in Kelantan state.

The news portal said Dr Mahathir's comments was likely to have been part of an exclusive interview he gave to a group of pro-Mahathir bloggers last weekend in which Dr Mahathir continued the attacks he has launched on Datuk Seri Najib in recent weeks. In the interview, Dr Mahathir called on the government to set up a "totally independent commission" to investigate 1MDB, the debt-ridden government-owned investment firm.

Over the past few weeks, Dr Mahathir has also used his blog posts to blast Mr Najib and call for him to step down over his handling of a range of issues. They include Mr Najib's role in a 2006 murder case believed to be linked to the purchase of two French submarines, amendments to the Sedition Act that critics say are meant to stifle free speech, and the use of taxes and cash handouts as part of the government's economic policy.

Dr Mahathir's recent salvos have led leaders from the ruling Umno party, including Defence Minister and Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein, to call for Dr Mahathir to cease his attacks against Mr Najib .

Meanwhile Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin today said there was no need to pressure Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of Dr Mahathir, to express his support for Mr Najib's leadership.

Calling Datuk Seri Mukhriz a "seasoned politician", the Youth and Sports Minister said he expected the Kedah Mentri Besar to state his position in his own time.

"I believe he understands the situation and he will make a statement on his position in due time," Mr Khairy was quoted saying by The Star.

Mr Mukhriz has come under fire from several Umno figures for not immediately declaring his support for Mr Najib.