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Malaysia Opposition Condemns Government Anti-Terror Ads - 2002-01-18

In Malaysia, the leading opposition party considers suing the government for a television piece that it says links it to Muslim extremists and the al-Qaida terrorist network. The Malaysian government says the piece merely informs the public about the threat of terrorism.

The Secretary-General of the Islamic Party of Malaysia, Nasharudin Mat Isa, said his party, known as PAS, is being attacked almost nightly on government-owned television. He threatened to take legal action. "They are portraying us as having links to events in Afghanistan, and also portraying us as militants, portraying us as terrorists, when I myself have made it clear that we have no links with any terrorists or militant activities and this has also been confirmed by Jane's Intelligence Review," he said.

The 90-second video clip shows pictures of PAS leaders along with footage of a woman being executed in Afghanistan and of U.S. bombing missions there. A narrator says Malaysians do not want to be in a country that needs a foreign power to rescue it.

The Malaysian Information Ministry says the video clip is meant to educate the public and is not directed against any political party.

Police in the past six months have detained three dozen Islamists on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Authorities say they are members of the Malaysian Mujahedin Group and received military training in Afghanistan. Some of those detained are members of PAS and one is the son of the party's spiritual leader.

Mr. Nasharudin said he is not sure if the Malaysian Mujahedin Group really exists. "We ourselves do not know who these people are. And even the government cannot prove that these are really members of PAS. So to say that PAS is having links with the Mujahedin group and so on, is not right because the government has not proved it," he said.

The suspects are held under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which allows unlimited detention without trial. The Human Rights Watch group in its annual report this week criticizes the practice, saying Kuala Lumpur is using global concern over terrorism to justify its use of detention without trial.

The chairman of Singapore's Institution of International Affairs, Professor Simon Tay, said the war against terrorism poses a challenge to governments. "I hope it never becomes the excuse to repress their own people. We must be watchful for that. But if we allow people to be terrorized, that's another form of repression," he said. "So the state is in a difficult position."

Professor Tay says poverty and political exclusion are the underlying causes of terrorism. Consequently, he hopes governments will promote development and democracy in the region, in addition to security, to fight terrorism.