Malaysian human rights groups yesterday accused the government of engaging in a possible political cover-up by imprisoning without trial an alleged key figure in the global nuclear smuggling network headed by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist.
Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan businessman living in Malaysia, was arrested last week under the country's Internal Security Act, which allows a two-year detention without charges being brought before a court.
Mr Tahir was closely linked to a company owned by the son of Abudullah Badawi, the prime minister, that was involved in supplying centrifuge parts to Libya's nuclear weapons programme.
His detention was "a clear example of abuse of power" since it could protect "other important persons in the scandal of nuclear weapons from being exposed", said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, head of a coalition of rights groups campaigning for the abolition of the ISA.
The detention order for Mr Tahir was signed by the prime minister in his dual role as home minister.
Mr Syed Ibrahim said the government should either release Mr Tahir or bring him to trial, which would offer him a chance to expose others who might be involved in supplying nuclear parts.
Mr Tahir is the highest-ranking operative in the nuclear smuggling group of Abdul Qadeer Khan to be jailed since the ring was uncovered early this year. Mr Khan has been pardoned by the Pakistani government.
When Mr Tahir's role was disclosed in February, Malaysia refused to arrest him then because it said he had not broken any local laws.
"We are puzzled why he was arrested now rather than several months ago. His detention prevents bringing forward essential information in a transparent manner and instead keeps it hidden from the public eye," said Cynthia Gabriel, head of Suara Rakyat Malaysia, a leading human rights group.
Mr Tahir had earlier been questioned about his role in the Khan network by the Malaysian police, who released a report absolving Scomi Group, the company controlled by the prime minister's son, Kamaluddin Abdullah, of any complicity in the deal.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"