KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) -The arrest of two Democratic Action Party (DAP) lawmakers – including a state executive councillor – for their suspected links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group is certainly one of the most explosive stories of the week.
This isn’t the first time that DAP leaders have found themselves accused of supporting the Sri Lankan terrorist group, since even Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy and Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran have been entangled in that same web.
Old pictures, purportedly showing them with flags and paraphernalia from the LTTE, have been circulating on social media for a while, but recently received a new lease of life.
Both Dr Ramasamy and Kulasegaran have one thing in common – they have both spoken out against controversial Indian preacher Dr Zakir Naik.
They have continuously lobbied for his deportation and the revoking of his permanent residence status.
Many believe that their incessant calls have angered some individuals and groups linked to religious units, who have stepped up their campaign against the two.
The two DAP leaders – Melaka ex-co member G. Saminathan and Seremban Jaya assemblyman P. Gunasekaran – are among seven people arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, which comes with 28 days of detention.
The possible arrest of Dr Ramasamy, a former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science lecturer, has also cropped up.
Obviously, Saminathan and Gunasekaran have been under surveillance for a while, because the police said they were arrested for giving speeches during an LTTE Heroes Day event in Melaka on Nov 28 last year.
They were also allegedly involved in activities promoting the movement, where they were said to have distributed fliers at the events.
Ayob also said that two of the seven detainees had been charged with assaulting the Sri Lankan ambassador at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in September 2016.
He said police also arrested a 28-year-old insurance agent in Kuala Lumpur, who is believed to have planned an attack on the Sri Lanka High Commission in the city.
However, Ayob noted that race and religion did not factor in the arrest of the seven, adding that the force’s stance is consistent on all terror groups: “There is no issue of favouritism based on race and religion because for us, anyone who is a threat to national security will be arrested, ” he told The Malaysian Insight.
He said investigation papers would list all the evidence, to be submitted to the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).
Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador, meanwhile, said there was ample evidence against the suspects.
As a follow-up, the police will now have to provide evidence of their alleged involvement in terrorism activities – even if the LTTE is now defunct – and it remains to be seen if the AGC will quickly charge them in open court.
These are serious accusations, so surely this group of seven would want to defend themselves, while the public will be expecting the police to charge them since their actions are detrimental to the nation.
However, there is also a sense of disbelief, and even cynicism, that this is a mere political game to appease powerful religious and racial forces.
After all, Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran has been dead for a decade now.
He was cornered and killed with 18 of his most loyal bodyguards by the Sri Lankan military, it was reported.
More than 10,000 former LTTE fighters, many of whom were forcibly conscripted by the rebels, have been rehabilitated since the war ended on May 18,2009, with only 300 still in detention, revealed Sri Lankan government figures.
Ayob must have anticipated such a reaction because he conceded that the police had also acted strongly against those who supported the Islamic State movement, adding that the police are professionals adhering to the letter of the law.
It’s unclear if the two are linked to the other arrested individuals because the latter party seems more radical in their actions and plans.
The arrest of Malaysian politicians, with their alleged involvement with LTTE, is, without doubt, the first of its kind in Malaysia.
But it comes as no surprise that the Malaysian anti-terrorism division has been vigilant against any attempts by Malaysians to revive support for LTTE, since India’s Home Ministry has also just renewed its ban on the group.
Recent news reports indicate that a representative of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) met select media personnel in Chennai to announce a “tree sapling planting programme” to mark the “Mullivaikkal genocide” on May 18 – the final phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, in which the LTTE was annihilated.
According to an economictimes.com report on May 15 this year, the TGTE “member of Parliament” quietly left India.
“Formed after the defeat of LTTE, the TGTE is a government-in-exile with Visvanathan Rudrakumaran as ‘Prime Minister’. Internationally, the ex-LTTE members have organised themselves in two or three factions, including the TGTE, ” it said, adding that the five-year ban was aimed at stopping fringe groups from raising the “Eelam” banner or reviving the slogan of an independent Tamil nation.
The report also quoted security experts in Sri Lanka saying they were wary of a revival of the LTTE.
“We have information that they are re-organising in Canada and Europe, ” said renowned international terrorism expert Professor Rohan Gunaratna.
“As long as attempts are being made to propagate LTTE ideology, India should continue to extend the ban.”
The news report said that although a ban has been in place for close to three decades, Tamil nationalist groups and individuals have been flaunting their affinity with LTTE with impunity, including “hailing Prabhakaran publicly and putting up photos and posters”.
So, the Indian government hasn’t been able to stamp out support for LTTE completely in India, and no politician would want to antagonise the Tamil voters.
Perhaps there isn’t much difference for Malaysian Indian politicians to tamper with Tamil sentiments, the affinity for LTTE, or to win the minority but still crucial Indian votes as part of their game plan.
Race and religion remain toxic subjects, regardless of their form or variation.
Adding fuel to the fire, it’s worse that this foreign extremism is imported into Malaysia, only to find life in our already complicated politics.
The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.
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