KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 — Claiming he was quoted out of context, Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has denied proclaiming he is friends with outlawed gang Tiga Line as previously reported.
The minister has also demanded for his remarks to town elders in Malacca last Saturday to be published in full, after facing a week-long public denouncement he claimed was due to certain facts being twisted by a news portal in its coverage of the event.
“I never mentioned ‘Tiga Line is our people’. I said it is a splinter of the group Pertubuhan Kebajikan dan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Pekida) and the division created three lines,” Ahmad Zahid told Malay daily Sinar Harian today.
The ex-defence minister claimed to have received detailed reports about the group since before becoming home minister in May.
“But if among them they become bouncers, car repossessors and are involved in crime, I will ask the police to arrest them. Why didn’t that sentence come out?” he asked.
The Umno vice-president has remained in the headlines in the run-up to party polls next week with his controversial remarks, the latest being a purported call for the police to adopt a “shoot first” approach in dealing with criminal suspects in a bid to arrest the rising violent crime rate.
His remark had triggered an uproar from the opposition and rights groups who are now calling for his sacking.
On October 7, Ahmad Zahid was reported to have advocated a “shoot first” policy for the police in dealing with suspected gang members in the wake of a violent crime spree across the country.
While detailing the government crackdown on underworld figures at a security briefing with community leaders in Ayer Keroh, Malacca on October 5, the home minister reportedly asserted the 6,000-plus Malay members of some gangs should not be lumped in the same category.
“The 6,171 Malays, they are not real thugs (samseng), they were Pekida members and were part of the Tiga Line group, Gang 30, Gang 7 — these are festivities (kenduri-kendara) gangsters,” Ahmad Zahid was quoted saying by news portal Malaysiakini.
“I tell our Tiga Line friends, do what should be done,” he reportedly added, based on a 20-minute audio recording of the speech.
Tiga Line was one of 49 secret societies the Home Ministry had named as banned in August in a crackdown on violent crimes following several shooting sprees nationwide.
According to the Malaysiakini report, Ahmad Zahid said the gang was not malicious and only gathered during festivities and projects.
He also reportedly referred to Umno supreme council candidate Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim as the “biggest Tiga Line gangster” in his speech.
“I see here, the candidates here, all four of them are Tiga Line,” the home minister was quoted saying, while Shahidan, a former Perlis mentri besar, was present in the room.
As home minister, Ahmad Zahid’s portfolio includes overseeing police operations.
He was also reported to have advocated a “shoot first” policy for the police at the same event, in dealing with suspected gang members in the wake of a violent crime spree that has resulted in, according to him, Malays making up the majority of the victims.
He reportedly said there was nothing wrong with arresting the over 40,000 known gangsters in the country, half of whom are Indians.
“What is the situation of robbery victims, murder victims during shootings? Most of them are our Malays. Most of them are our race,” he was quoted as saying.
“I think the best way is that we no longer compromise with them. There is no need to give them any more warning. If (we) get the evidence, (we) shoot first.”
Ahmad Zahid is no stranger to controversy, having pushed successfully through the Dewan Rakyat last week an amendment to a security law that restored preventive detention powers to the police.
He was also reported to have ordered reporters who were in the audience not to report on his remarks, allegedly threatening to shut down their newspapers if the contents of his speech were published.
Chinese-language newspaper Oriental Daily, however, reported the next day on Zahid’s warning to the media after he made “sensitive remarks”, though it did not give details on his comments.
Ahmad Zahid’s warning came days after he was reported to have gone on a tirade during a press conference against Malaysiakini for allegedly spinning his statements.
The news portal also claimed that their journalist on duty at the time was “harassed” by the minister at the end of the press conference.