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Lawyers condemn arrest of activist, say public has right to answers on casino report

Lawyers for Liberty says Chegubard's arrest shows 'complete failure of the Madani government'.

3 minute read
Badrul Hisham Shahrin (right) with a screenshot of a Facebook posting commenting on a recent Bloomberg news report.
Badrul Hisham Shahrin (right) with a screenshot of a Facebook posting commenting on a recent Bloomberg news report.

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has condemned the arrest of an opposition activist who made a Facebook post about Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's alleged discussion on the proposal for a casino in Johor, saying people have the right to demand answers to the claim reported by financial news Bloomberg.

LFL said Badrul Hisham Shaharin, better known as Chegubard, had not committed any crime as he had merely commented on the  April 25 report, which said Anwar and two prominent tycoons had met over the proposal for a casino in Forest City, a claim the prime minister denies.

"The Bloomberg report was also attached in the same post. Where is the crime in this? Only in dictatorships do people get arrested for something like this," said LFL director Zaid Malek, adding that there was nothing wrong in commenting on a news item that had already been widely reported.

"Further, don’t Malaysians have a right to ask questions over the issue of whether Anwar is in talks to open a casino?"

Anwar denied the report, calling it a lie, but stopped short of saying whether he would seek a retraction from the US-based media group.

Instead, Anwar called on parties named in the article to "take the necessary action".

Zaid said the content of the report was a matter of public interest and the public had the right to demand answers.

"Are we supposed to take Anwar’s word that 'it’s all lies' and not enquire further?" he asked.

He reminded the police of their duty to ensure public safety, "and not to preserve the image of the government or Anwar Ibrahim".

bloomberg_report_casinoIn the report published last week, Bloomberg said Anwar had met with tycoons Vincent Tan of Berjaya and Lim Kok Thay of Genting, as well as representatives of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, to discuss a plan to open a casino in Forest City.

"Anwar, senior government officials and the businessmen had lunch and meetings on the possibility of granting what would only be Malaysia’s second-ever casino licence," the report said, adding that the talks were "preliminary".

The report comes eight months after Anwar announced the establishment of a Special Financial Zone (SFZ) in Forest City to boost Johor's economy and revitalise the southern settlement, which has been labelled a ghost town.

'Deny or take civil action'

Zaid noted the government had already denied that the report.

"They could even go further and take civil action against the news outlet responsible for the alleged false news," he added.

Chegubard was arrested under the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, in a trend of the PH-led government silencing critics under the two draconian laws it once opposed.

Similar measures against critics by the 17-month-old Anwar government have led Amnesty International to warn of the threat to freedom of expression in Malaysia in its latest report.

LFL said the latest arrest showed the "utter and complete failure of the Madani government" to fulfil its promise to protect freedom of speech.

"This is the clearest act showing that the government’s primary intention is to stop any public discourse that damages the image of the government in voters eyes by abusing the criminal investigation process and misusing police resources.

"Not only is the government hypocritical, but they are outright disrespecting the Constitution by ignoring the protection to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 10(1)(a)."