In the first such cases in Malaysia, government-linked Assemblymen have been charged and are claiming trial under laws usually reserved for the opposition or anti-establishment activists.
On Thursday (Jan 9), an Assemblyman from the Democratic Action Party, which is the second-largest party in the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, claimed trial at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur to a total of three charged linked to the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) militant group.
The Assemblyman is Seremban Jaya (Negeri Sembilan) DAP member P Gunasekaran.
Gunasekaran, 60, and storekeeper S Thanagaraj, 26, pleaded not guilty when their charges were separately read out to them during proceedings before Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, according to Malaysiakini.
In the not too distant past, Malaysia usually filed such charges against Islamists from the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and other activists who were anti-establishment.
When it still had the Internal Security Act (ISA), several members of PAS were arrested for links with the KMM (Malaysia Militant Group), a shadowy terror group.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, at least eight of the 10 people arrested for links with the KMM were reportedly PAS members. They were initially held under the ISA.
With the repeal of the ISA and the introduction in 2012 of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, the Najib government used the latter to arrest opposition activists and MPs.
In October last year, however, Gunasekaran was charged in the Malacca Sessions Court with one count of supporting the LTTE, while Thanagaraj was charged in the Butterworth Sessions Court with two counts of possessing materials linked to the group.
This is a historic shift, under the Pakatan Harapan government headed by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in the way they do things in Malaysia. No one would have believed that it would arrest and charge government-linked Assemblymen.
Gunasekaran’s counsel Harshan Zamani informed the judge that they would be filing an application for bail. No objection was raised by the Deputy Public Prosecutor.
Gunasekaran was arrested after claims in a Facebook page that DAP members had links with the LTTE. The page suggested that politicians of the Indian race were planning to help fund and revive the LTTE. The DAP has called these claims ridiculous.
Gunasekaran and Thanagaraj were among 12 individuals hauled to sessions courts nationwide and charged with LTTE-linked offences from Oct 29 last year. They were not allowed bail and have since been kept behind bars.
Another DAP member, V Suresh Kumar, 43 is among those arrested.