Bloggers rally around Raja Petra
Raja Petra Kamarudin at a press conference after being questioned at the Dang Wangi police station for eight hours. (Photo courtesy of Johnleemk via Wikipedia)

Bloggers rally around Raja Petra

The detention of the author of 'Malaysia Today' is rousing bloggers to fight against government regulation of the Internet

By Winghei Kwok
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Malaysian government's recent crack down on bloggers has increased solidarity among bloggers, says Raja Petra Kamarudin, a prominent Malaysian political blogger, who was recently interrogated by police for the contents of his site.

Bloggers initiated a petition "Citizens In Solidarity with Raja Petra and Freedom of Speech" which now has over 900 signatures. The Malaysian Bar Council has also set up a committee of volunteer lawyers to give bloggers legal assistance.

"The government has created a monster," Raja Petra told AsiaMedia in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur. "What the government has done is force the bloggers to organize themselves and to unite under one umbrella, because there is always strength in numbers…if we are all together as a group then we are not that easy to intimidate."

Raja Petra was detained by authorities on Jul. 25 after a police report was filed against him for comments on his blog, Malaysia Today, that allegedly insulted the King and Islam. He was released after eight hours of questioning and without being charged with any crime.

Nathanial Tan was detained on Jul. 13 under the Official Secrets Act for an anonymous comment which accused Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Mohd Johari Baharum of corruption. Tan was detained for four days before being released without charges. In April, the government demanded that bloggers register their sites.

In response, bloggers have formed groups like Bloggers United Malaysia and the National Blogger Alliance, which is led by political bloggers Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi, two bloggers who were sued by the New Straits Times for defamation in January 2007.

The state-run news agency Bernama reports that officials of UMNO, the largest Malaysian political party that has ruled the country since 1957, are proposing the formation of a cyber police unit to maintain surveillance of bloggers' activities. Datuk Paduka Norza Zakaria, the head of Federal Territory UMNO Youth, said that under Malaysian law, Raja Petra should have warned readers that they would be responsible for the content of their comments. Norza said that Raja Petra should be prosecuted under the Internal Security Act (ISA), a law that allows detention without trial.

Raja Petra was previously detained under the ISA on Apr. 11, 2001, and held for 52 days before being released. He told AsiaMedia that the government wants to silence him by using the ISA because he has written several articles in Malaysia Today about corruption among senior ministers. The reports, he said, "have devastated the government greatly and the government doesn't know how to reply to all these allegations," said Raja Petra.

But Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said in a senate meeting on July 24 that the government is not using the ISA to limit press freedom.

"This is not aimed at eliminating the freedom of speech but to wipe out the freedom to cheat, defame and hurt people so that blogs can really be a source of correct information and sincere views and not a platform to hurl abuses at people," Nazri said.

Bernama reports that Khairy Jamaluddin, deputy chief of the youth arm of UMNO, said at a conference on July 28 that, "there are no laws in the cyberworld except for the law of the jungle. As such, action must be taken so that the monkeys behave."

Journalism advocacy groups are concerned about Malaysia's press freedom. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance and the Centre for Independent Journalism said in a statement on that they are "condemning the use of such draconian laws as alarmingly and grossly disproportionate against Malaysians who are exercising their constitutional and democratic right to free expression on topics of high public interest."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists' executive director Joel Simon said in a press release, "Any new laws tailored to censor the Internet would represent a significant step backward for press freedom in Malaysia."