Blogger held on sedition charges
New York, May 7, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for sedition charges to be dropped against Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, who was jailed Tuesday. He is being held in connection with a story alleging that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife were involved in the October 2006 murder of a Mongolian translator. Najib has vigorously denied the allegation.
Raja Petra’s online article about the death of translator Altantuya Shaariibuu was posted on April 25 on the Web site Malaysia Today. Raja Petra is founder and editor of the popular site. The woman’s mutilated body was found that October in a jungle clearing near a Kuala Lumpur suburb.
“Controversial reporting, even when it involves the highest levels of government, does not justify the government’s resorting to charges like sedition,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Sedition charges against journalists have no place in a democratic society. If Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife feel they have been libeled, they should bring a civil lawsuit.”
Raja Petra had pleaded not guilty to the charges in the Sessions Court in Selangor, and was taken to prison after refusing to post RM5,000 (US$1,600) bail. A trial is scheduled for October. If convicted, he could be fined RM5,000 and jailed for up to three years.
Several Malaysian news reports say Raja Petra began a hunger strike after entering prison. Malaysian news reports said he was defiant as he left court, saying he was not worried about the trial because he had evidence to back his article’s claims.
Malaysian media widely reported that two police officers, whose duties include guarding the prime minister and Najib, were charged with the killing not long after the body was discovered. Najib, who is in line to take over as the next prime minister, has denied any involvement in the death.
Malaysian media is tightly monitored by the government, but online sites like Malaysia Today have greater freedom to report on controversial issues and have become poplar as more Internet users have come online.
Raja Petra has been in trouble with the authorities before. CPJ reported that in July 2007, police interrogated the popular Internet-based writer for eight hours. Officials from the ruling United Malays National Organization said the site had published material the government perceived as an insult to Islam and an attempt to stir racial tensions. Raja Petra said police questioned him not about the articles he had written but about reader comments posted on his site.