New York, November 7, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the court-ordered release from prison today of blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor and founder of the Malaysia Today news and commentary Web site.
High Court Justice Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad ruled that Raja Petra’s detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) was illegal and that the Home Minister had acted beyond his authority when he sentenced the blogger to two years in prison, according to news reports. It was unclear if the government would appeal the court’s decision.
“We welcome the release today of Raja Petra Kamarudin but reiterate that he never should have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “CPJ calls on the Malaysian authorities to renew their lapsed commitment to a free and open Internet and to stop harassing the country’s online journalists and writers.”
Raja Petra was first arrested on September 12 under the ISA. Nearly two weeks later he was handed a two-year jail term by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar on the grounds that his political writings “ridiculed Islam” and represented a potential security threat by stirring ethnic tensions.
Malaysia’s ISA allows for imprisonment without charge for an initial two-year period, with indefinite extensions possible at the discretion of the Home Minister. His detention in September represented the second time Raja Petra had been detained under the act for his writing.
Raja Petra had been held in solitary confinement at Kamunting, a detention center near Taiping in northern Perak state. His wife and colleagues kept Malaysia Today running while he was held in detention, including posting a blog entry he wrote from prison.
CPJ was among the various local and international press freedom groups that advocated for Raja Petra’s release. In an October 14 report, “Malaysia’s Risk Takers,” CPJ detailed the tribulations Raja Petra has faced since launching his blog in 2004.
The blogger still faces additional charges for sedition and criminal defamation over articles and commentaries posted to his popular news site. On May 6, he was detained and charged under the Sedition Act for linking Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Najib Abdul Razak to the murder of a Mongolian interpreter. The charge carries a three-year prison sentence.
He was also arrested and charged on July 17 when the attorney general’s office brought three criminal defamation charges against him for a sworn court statement he made in June implicating Najib’s wife and two military officials in the same murder. Each charge carries a potential two-year jail term.
In a separate case on August 15, a court ordered Ragja Petra to reveal sources for three articles that accused lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah of conspiring with police in relation to sodomy charges filed against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and remove the articles from his site, according to news reports. He declined to do that.