Malaysian government intensifies harassment of political bloggers

New York, August 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns the recent harassment of popular bloggers Raja Petra Kamarudin and Abdul Rashid Bakar.

On August 15, Raja Petra, editor of the Malaysia Today news Web site, was ordered by a Malaysian Court to reveal the sources for three of his posted articles, which accused prominent local lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah of conspiring with police in relation to sodomy charges recently filed against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, according to news reports. Shafee has strenuously denied the allegations.

The court also asked Raja Petra to reveal the identities of visitors who had posted comments on his blog in connection with the articles. Malaysian media reports said Raja Petra was ordered by the court to remove the articles from Malaysia Today. As of Tuesday, all three were still defiantly posted on the Web site, which garners an audience of around 1.5 million unique readers per day, according to Raja Petra. 

In a separate case, on August 7, blogger Abdul Rashid Abu Bakar, founder of the blog Penarik Beca, or Rickshaw Peddler, was arrested by police for publishing a digitally altered image of the national police insignia, according to local and international news reports. In that image, a tiger on the symbol was replaced with a dog and the words “Allah” and “Mohammad” on the symbol were replaced with “C4,” an explosive that was used in the murder of the Mongolian interpreter that has been linked to Najib.  

The blogger also replaced the word “Malaysia” with “Israel” in the doctored image, according to local press freedom group the Center for Independent Journalism. (Malaysia does not have formal diplomatic ties with Israel.) Abdul Rashid was held in police custody overnight and was released the following day on bail. The authorities have not yet formally charged him, the group said.

“These cases are only the latest incidents in an intensifying government campaign to undermine Malaysia’s vibrant and growing community of online commentators,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “We call on the Malaysian authorities to stop harassing bloggers and uphold the spirit of the government’s 1996 policy pledge not to censor the Internet.”

Raja Petra now faces a wide array of legal charges for his critical political writings. On May 6 he was charged and detained for three days under Malaysia’s draconian Sedition Act over postings he made that linked Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Najib Abdul Razak to the murder of a Mongolian interpreter. That trial is set to begin in October. The blogger faces up to three years in prison. 

He was also arrested and charged on July 17 in relation to three separate criminal defamation charges that stem from assertions he made in a mid-June sworn statement that Najib’s wife was near the scene of the murder. Two military officials and the government have filed the charges, each of which carries a possible two years in prison. The trial began on August 15 and will resume after the court decides whether to grant the prosecution’s request to move the case to a higher criminal court.