Malaysia on Wednesday detained a ruling party official over an alleged clash with supporters of a democracy group and a threat to spark race riots, as tension mounts ahead of a rally planned for next month to demand that the prime minister resign.
The 19th Novermber rally is being planned by democracy group Bersih, which draws most of its support from the ethnic Chinese minority and wants Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down over a financial scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Jamal Yunos, a member of Najib’s United Malays National Organisation and the leader of the ‘Red Shirts’ group of government supporters, will be held on remand for 48 hours as police investigate several cases, the group’s legal adviser, Mohamad Imran Tamrin, said.
Jamal is being investigated under Malaysia’s penal code, its communications and multimedia law and the Sedition Act for allegations of criminal intimidation and threatening to cause a bloody uprising if the anti-Najib rally went ahead, Imran added.
In a post on Facebook last month, Jamal threatened a repeat of Malaysia’s 1969 racial riots at the Bersih rally, but he later denied making the comment.
“Such seditious statements were unacceptable,” Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s inspector-general of police, said on social network Twitter this month, and vowed that police would take firm action.
Ethnicity and religion are sensitive issues in Malaysia, where mostly Muslim ethnic Malays form about 60 percent of the population of 30 million. Ethnic Chinese make up about 25 percent and ethnic Indians about 7 percent.
In 1969, Malays and ethnic Chinese clashed in a bloody riot that killed hundreds.
Growing altercations between Bersih and the Red Shirts supporters over the past few weeks have seen the latter disrupting Bersih’s roadshows.
Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah has said she received death threats over the rally. A picture circulated on social media this week depicted an Islamic State-style beheading of Maria and other Bersih leaders.
In July, U.S. prosecutors filed civil lawsuits alleging that 1MDB, founded by Najib in 2009 and chaired by him until recently, had been defrauded of more than $3.5 billion.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing and said Malaysia would cooperate with all international investigations.