In detaining blogger, Malaysia invokes secrets act

Bangkok, July 11, 2012–Malaysian authorities must immediately release independent blogger Syed Abdullah Syed Hussein al-Attas who has been in police custody since July 4, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police arrested Syed Abdullah and a companion at a toll booth while they were traveling in central Sembilan state, according to news reports. The blogger has been held on allegations that 64 of his blog entries, posted under a penname (“Uncle Seekers”) on his personal blog, had insulted the Sultan of Johor, the ruler of the Malaysian state of Johor, news reports said. The articles also used allegedly confidential documents as sources and referred to a lawyer, Kamal Hisham Jaafar, who claimed that a member of the Johor palace had threatened him, news reports said.

A group of about 30 people filed a complaint against Syed Abdullah on July 1, claiming the articles were a “provocation, incitement, and insult to the Sultan,” according to the official news agency Bernama. Officials connected the allegations to the Officials Secrets Act and began to investigate the complaint, according to news reports. The act strictly forbids and provides for harsh prison sentences for the dissemination of information classified as a state secret.

If the investigation finds the complaint valid, Syed Abdullah could be charged under the Official Secrets Act and would face up to seven years in prison if found guilty, news reports said.

“The detention of Syed Abdullah Syed Hussein Al-Attas represents the latest assault on Internet freedom in Malaysia,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Online media and independent blogs have been a powerful antidote to Malaysia’s tightly controlled mainstream media. The use of ‘state secret’ allegations makes this case even more serious.”

In recent years, Malaysian authorities have detained several bloggers and charged them under vague provisions in different laws, including the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act, and Internal Security Act. The crackdown has more recently extended to postings deemed critical of royal figures, CPJ research shows. Khairul Nizam Abd Ghani, who blogs under the “Aduka Taruna” penname, was charged under the Sedition Act in January 2010 for postings considered insulting to Johor’s royal family. He was acquitted of the charges in June this year because the prosecution failed to prove its case, according to Bernama.

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