Reporters Without Borders today condemned continuing government harassment of bloggers and their families after Marine Lee, the wife of blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, was questioned by police in a Kuala Lumpur police station yesterday about her husband’s Malaysia Today website.
Lee told the police that, as a Muslim woman under Sharia law, she could only speak if her husband allowed her to do so. The ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) filed a complaint against Raja Petra on 23 July about an 11 July article considered insulting to the king.
25.07 - Government goes to war against bloggers using arrests and interrogation
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a recent wave of online censorship and harassment of outspoken bloggers as Malaysia approaches its national holiday on 31 August and gears up for early elections at the start of next year.
“Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government is the target of mounting criticism and its response seems to be repression,” the press freedom organisation said. “Citing the need to combat attempts to incite racial hatred or insult the king, the internal security ministry is trying to intimidate dissidents, especially dissident bloggers.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “It is outrageous to see a minister threatening to jail bloggers who have managed to create an unprecedented space for free expression in Malaysia. We call for charges to be dropped against bloggers Raja Petra Kamarudin, Nathaniel Tan, Ahiruddin Attan and Jeff Ooi. At the same time, the national press must be allowed real editorial independence.”
Malaysia was placed 92nd out of 168 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders ranking of nations according to respect for press freedom.
Nazri Abdul Aziz, who holds the position of minister in the Prime Minister’s Department with responsibility for justice, said yesterday that the government would not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act against bloggers who tackle sensitive issues. Under the ISA, someone who is deemed to have threatened state security can be held without trial for two years. Aziz added that the government had until now been “very patient.”
Science and technology minister Kong Cho Ha warned last December that the government planned to introduce regulations designed to prevent “ill-intentioned” use of the Internet and the posting of information by bloggers that harmed Malaysia’s “social harmony.”
Political commentator and blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (also known as RPK) was interrogated for eight hours today by police about articles he recently posted online, including one entitled “See you in hell Muhamad son of Muhamad.” He was also asked about the identity of people who had posted comments about his articles. The summons for questioning was the result of a complaint brought against him on 23 July by the ruling United Malays National Organisation.
Kamarudin, who edits the independent website Malaysia Today, posted an article on 11 July that is deemed to be an insult to the king and incitement to racial hatred. He claims to be read by more than 300,000 people a day and is known for criticising Prime Minister Badawi and other politicians. He faces a possible three-year prison sentence.
Blogger Nathaniel Tan, a member of the opposition Justice Party (PKR), was released on 17 July after being held for four days. Local sources said he was detained because his blog contained a link to a website with information about a corruption case involving internal security minister Johari Bharum. The information was deemed to be a violation of the Official Secrets Act.
Last January, the management and former editors of the New Straits Times daily sued two outspoken bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Ahiruddin Attan, over articles they had posted which argued, with the help of detailed examples, that some of its reports and editorials lacked objectivity.