Press Statement

Unwarranted arrest and detention of Mustafa Akyol

26 September 2017

Lawyers for Liberty view with extreme concern the arrest and overnight detention of leading Turkish author and columnist Mustafa Akyol at KLIA as he was about to leave the country yesterday. He was arrested after he was summoned by the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) to be questioned, purportedly for teaching Islam without the required credential.

While the immigration and police have been unable to state the grounds of his arrest, it is known that he was in Malaysia to give a series of talk on Islam, democracy and human rights. This is also not his first working visit to Malaysia as previously he has given similar talks without any impediments from the authorities.

His arrest is shocking and unacceptable to say the least as his views are well known and well documented and there is nothing to suggest they are a threat to national security, public order or so out of bounds of democratic norms that they become criminal in nature.

Instead, the authorities in a show of force like other authoritarian states like China, Turkey and Egypt have detained this respected intellectual. Such high handed behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to civil society and in particular to intellectuals, whether Malaysians or international visitors that they should watch what they say, or else they may invite retaliation.

This is a most serious assault on democracy and freedom of speech as even now foreign intellectuals who have had some measure of protection are not immune from being targeted by the authorities.

The government must be reminded that disagreement, criticism and condemnation are part and parcel of democracy, and they cannot just arrest those whom they disagree with. Having independent thought and speaking up is not a crime.

Freedom of speech remains an indispensable component in any modern and democratic society as it enables the public to make informed decisions based on the free flow of information and exchange of ideas. In order to do, we must have diversity in thought and opinion, not just what the government deem as correct, true or acceptable.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty