The arrest of two ethnic Indian assemblymen from the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on police claims that they support a banned Sri Lankan militant group has raised tensions within the Malaysian government.
The leadership of the DAP, one of four parties in Malaysia's governing coalition, said it was not given early warning by police of the detentions. And there is concern that the party's image may be tarnished by being linked to militancy.
Police arrested 12 men, including the DAP assemblymen, in swoops last week and over the weekend. Police say the men were sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and were raising funds to revive the defunct group with help from a politician from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang yesterday said that the security law under which the men were detained, the Security Offences Special Measures Act (Sosma), should be abolished, with calls in the DAP for the suspects to be charged in court instead. He said his party has never advocated violence and will provide legal help for the two assemblymen.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday stood by the arrests, saying the anti-terror police followed the law, and that the move was not meant to weaken any coalition party. "We don't like to use power to weaken any quarter," he told reporters in Langkawi.
"It was not me who nabbed these people, not (Home Minister) Muhyiddin (Yassin), who nabbed them, (but) it is the police who did so and the arrests by their officers were following the law," he said.
Even Pakatan Harapan leader Anwar Ibrahim piped up, saying that while he agreed Sosma should be used for terrorism cases, the Act should be amended "because the law as it is now is too harsh".
The DAP assemblymen detained are state lawmakers P. Gunasekaren from Negeri Sembilan and G. Saminathan from Melaka.
Counter-Terrorism Division head Ayob Khan called for a special news conference yesterday to say that the detentions had nothing to do with politics or race. He said that people should not confuse sympathy for the plight of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka with supporting the banned LTTE.
Datuk Ayob said police believe a non-governmental organisation with branches nationwide had been actively securing funds for LTTE.
He said last week that one of the men advocated attacking the Sri Lankan Embassy in Malaysia.
"Those involved in supporting, promoting or securing funds for terror groups will be arrested regardless of their political affiliation or race," he said. "The ones detained in Melaka were suspected of organising an LTTE Warriors' Day celebration last year."
Asked whether the police should charge the suspects in court, he said they were detained for security offences and this was not a normal criminal probe.
Pushing back against a claim by DAP secretary-general and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng that the police had told him there would be no more arrests linked to the LTTE, Mr Ayob said he was not sure where the minister got his information.
"He did not get it from me. I have never issued any statement that we will stop this investigation. If we have enough evidence, we will investigate and make more arrests," he said.
Mr Ayob said Indian politician Senthamizhan Seeman from Tamil Nadu may be banned from entering Malaysia if there is evidence that links him to the LTTE. He said police are aware that Mr Seeman has been entering Malaysia many times to meet politicians.