Reporters Without Borders hails today’s release of online journalist Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder and editor of the Malaysia Today (http://mt.m2day.org/2008/) website. Also known as “RPK,” he had been detained since 12 September under section 8 of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which permits detention without trial for two years.
“We are pleased to learn that the judge who ordered his immediate release said the government had failed to give sufficient grounds for holding him,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A Malaysian court has not taken such a decision on the ISA since 1987.”
The press freedom organisation added: “This is an important day for free expression in Malaysia and for RPK, who will able to rejoin his family even if the authorities are clearly still keeping him under surveillance. The ISA is now undoubtedly a major obstacle to free expression for journalists, bloggers and activists in Malaysia.”
As Raja Petra was led into the courtroom today in Shah Alam, near Kuala Lumpur, his wife, Marina Lee, told the Reporters Without Borders correspondent: “I cannot find the words to express my joy. I am eternally grateful to Reporters Without Borders for its support. We are going to continue fighting for the ISA’s repeal, so that this law can no longer be used against my husband or anyone else.”
RPK was brought to the court at around 3 p.m. today to be formally released by the judge. His lawyers told Reporters Without Borders: “This is an historic decision in Malaysia’s history, a sign of the change to come.” His lawyers had petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus on 22 October on the grounds that his arrest was unconstitutional.
He was arrested on 12 September in Kuala Lumpur under article 73 (1) of the ISA for allegedly "spreading confusion" and "insulting the purity of Islam". Article 73 specifies that there must be "objective" grounds for such an arrest and RPK’s lawyers argued that posting articles online were not sufficient grounds for claiming he represented a concrete threat to internal security.. RPK has been released on the ground of procedural non compliance.
He was transferred from a Kuala Lumpur police station to Kamunting detention centre in the north of the country on 22 September on an order issued by interior minister Syed Hamid Albar under article 8 (1) of the ISA.
This article says: "If the minister is satisfied that the detention of any person is necessary with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to the maintenance of essential services therein or the economic life thereof, he may make an order directing that person be detained for any period not exceeding two years." The detention order can be renewed indefinitely.
The 58-year-old journalist was constantly harassed while held in the Kuala Lumpur police station. He was put in a cell with no window and with just a plank of wood for a bed, and was subjected to lengthy interrogation sessions designed to demonstrate that he was a bad Muslim. The police also deprived him of sleep.
He still faces charges of sedition and libel over Malaysia Today posts. On 10 November, he is due to appear in PJ sessions courts in Shah Alam on a charge under section 4(1) of the 1948 Sedition Act for suggesting that ruling party leaders were involved in the 2006 murder of a young Mongolian woman. He could get a three-year prison sentence if convicted on this charge, to which he pleaded not guilty in an initial hearing.