Malaysia rights lawyer arrested after saying State agency spreads extremism

(Photo: REUTERS / Samsul Said)A Muslim woman cries during a special prayer outside Malaysia's Court of Appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, March 5, 2014. Malaysia's Federal Court has reserved its ruling on an appeal from a Catholic newspaper to use the word Allah to refer to God, an issue that had fanned religious tensions and raised questions over minority rights in this mainly Muslim country.

Police in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia have arrested a human rights lawyer who drew public ire when he said a government agency handling Islamic affairs spreads extremism.

About 20 police officers swooped on Brickfields on November 12 and arrested Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen hours after authorities confirmed he was being investigated for a post online.

The lawyer posted on his Twitter account criticism of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) for purportedly fostering extremist ideals during the most recent Friday's sermons.

Human Rights Watch deplored Paulsen's arrest, saying the government appeared to be using "intimidation and intolerance" to silence criticism, The Malaysian Insider reported.

HRW's Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson lamented that police appeared to fast-track Paulsen's arrest, but do not resolve pressing issues such as the rising wave of persons dying in custody

"What's clear is Prime Minister (Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) and his government have doubled down on their bet that intimidation and intolerance is the best way to hold on to power, and the rights of the Malaysian people are under threat as a result," Robertson said in a statement.

Police announced Paulsen's arrest through the Twitter account of Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.

"@PDRMsia baru sahaja menangkap Eric Paulsen di Brickfields (Police have just arrested Eric Paulsen in Brickfields.)," the post read.

A few minutes after the arrest, LFL's Twitter account reported their co-founder's arrest.

The IGP said it would investigate if Paulsen's post a few days ago violated provisions of the heavily-criticized Sedition Act of 1948.

The remarks earned widespread condemnation, with Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin calling on police to look into the incident.

In his statement, Robertson expressed fears that police managed to "criminalize" Paulsen's post, explaining that the authorities seemed to connect the Jakim's actions with religion.

"There's no escaping a conclusion that the government's actions are severely threatening freedom of expression and fostering a climate of increased political and religious intolerance," he said.

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