Malaysia: WikiLeaks documents press censorship

A confidential United States cable released by WikiLeaks on July 29 documents the arrest of controversial Malaysian blogger and Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin.

Kamaruddin had been outspoken in his criticism of the government.

On September 12, 2008, Kamaruddin was arrested at his residence under the Internal Security Act (ISA) ― which allows for detention without trial.

Kamaruddin’s arrest came days after Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi threatened to use the ISA to repress those purportedly stoking racial and religious tensions.

The cable said: “The arrest was meant as a warning to the growing Internet media, but also sends a signal to the political Opposition, which has vowed to topple Abdullah's coalition later this month, that the UMNO-led government could take stern measures to defend itself.”

It said: “Malaysia's online news sources and blogs have blossomed over recent years as an alternative to the government dominated mainstream media.

“This trend has only increased after the March 8 elections, in which Abdullah and his UMNO party suffered a major setback.”

It states that the arrest “is another sign of insecurity on the part of Abdullah and the UMNO party. The government’s use of the ISA sends a strong warning to other opposition bloggers to curb their activities.

“The arrest may intimidate some activists, but it could result in a backlash by the independent media and bloggers, and increase public disaffection with Abdullah’s leadership.”

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who approved Kamaruddin’s ISA detention order, told the media that he was detained under 73(1) of the ISA because he was deemed a threat to security, peace and public order.

The arrest came after one of his more controversial posts in which he is alleged to have ridiculed Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

Albar said: “We have called and advised him [Kamaruddin] many times following the publishing of his statements but he has continued to write, so much so that they [the statements] could pose a threat [to security and public order].”

Albar said Kamaruddin would be detained for 60 days and that police would do an assessment during that period; further, he stated, “if they feel he should be held more than 60 days, the police will then refer to me”.

The normal procedure would be for the minister to accept the recommendations of the police and sign the order under Section 8(1) of the Act, which allows the police to detain people for renewable two-year periods.

Kamaruddin was freed on November 7 after a court ruling decreed his detention was illegal.

Kamaruddin’s arrest came the day after the government ordered the Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) to re-instate access to all blocked-websites, including the Malaysia Today site that was blocked on August 27.

Kamaruddin has been detained under the ISA before. Former prime minister Matathir Mohamad detained him under the ISA in 2001 for his involvement in when former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim initiated a reform movement.

Kamaruddin was held for 53 days.

The cable spelled out how US spokespeople should respond to Kamaruddin's detention “if asked”.

It said that, while “The United States firmly believes that freedom of the press”, the US “comment further on the specific grounds for the Malaysian government's actions”.

If asked about the use of the ISA law, it recommended expressing the “hope” that “ countries refrain from using national security laws to curtail the peaceful expression of political views and media freedom”.

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