Social media under fire over 'riot' at KL mall

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Five people were injured in a riot outside Low Yat Plaza on Sunday. The clash has raised concern about the state of race relations in Malaysia.
Five people were injured in a riot outside Low Yat Plaza on Sunday. The clash has raised concern about the state of race relations in Malaysia.PHOTO: SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Najib warns that Sedition Act will be used against those who destroy racial harmony

PETALING JAYA • Prime Minister Najib Razak said the tough Sedition Act will be used against those who destroyed racial harmony in an incident at Low Yat Plaza on Sunday where five people were injured in a brawl that has raised concern about fragile race relations in Malaysia.

Police, who have arrested 19 people, called the incident a "riot".

Datuk Seri Najib said he was disappointed at what took place at Low Yat Plaza and the comments on social media following the incident.

"People should not create racial hatred via the Internet or messaging apps on their phones," Mr Najib said in a Chinese statement on his Facebook page yesterday.

IRRESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOUR

About the Low Yat incident in Kuala Lumpur, which escalated into a violent brawl, which later transformed into a heated racial topic online - I am disappointed at this phenomenon.

PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK

"I have ordered the Home Ministry and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to monitor them thoroughly and, at the same time, I will use the relevant Acts, especially the Sedition Act, against those who destroy racial harmony," he added.

The incident at the popular electronics mall in the Bukit Bintang tourist belt in Kuala Lumpur started when a 22-year-old Malay man was caught stealing a mobile phone from a shop last Saturday and was beaten up by Chinese shop assistants, according to media reports.

A group of youths turned up the next day to trash the shop and were beaten up by mall workers.

Later that evening, and into the early hours of yesterday, some 200 angry Malays turned up outside the mall. Scuffles broke out, with helmets and other items flung about, and five people, including two journalists, were injured.

Mr Najib said: "About the Low Yat incident in Kuala Lumpur, which escalated into a violent brawl, which later transformed into a heated racial topic online - I am disappointed at this phenomenon.

"Everyone must stop spreading rumours, and rely on official statements issued by the police."

Mr Najib also told reporters yesterday that the social media space is "too free".

"We have freedom on social media so there's a problem because it's too free, in this instance, so this is something that should be thoroughly researched."

Police are looking for blogger Papagomo and several others who posted false information about the incident at the mall that may have inflamed tensions.

The mall opened as usual yesterday. However, many of the shops were closed, Malaysiakini news website said.

Kuala Lumpur police chief Tajuddin Md Isa refuted claims that the main suspect in last Saturday's shoplifting case was a victim of fraud and that he was sold a cloned mobile phone.

"It is also not true that the same suspect is a son of a policeman. There are too many rumours and false news on social media. This is one of the reasons violence escalated last night and early this morning," Datuk Tajudin said yesterday.

The incident raised concern about racial ties and the power of social media. "An isolated incident of theft or dishonesty gone awry has no racial connotations, irrespective of whether the perpetrator is a Chinese or Malay," said Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker, the religious harmony bureau chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Association.

Said Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, coordinator of a group of prominent former diplomats called G25: "Irresponsible bloggers from both the Chinese and Malay communities are weighing in with racist comments, and seeing the incident as racially inspired, without first ascertaining the facts."

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2015, with the headline 'Social media under fire over 'riot' at KL mall'. Print Edition | Subscribe