2011-07-31 Malaysia limits press freedom, cable shows

MALAYSIA - A US diplomatic cable 08KUALALUMPUR806 released by WikiLeaks on July 29, 2011 documents the arrest of controversial Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, as well as how the US would respond to the arrest. Kamaruddin, a contentious figure in Malaysia, had been quite outspoken with his criticism of the incumbent government at that time.

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 arrest was meant as a deterrent to the growing Internet media; it was also meant as a message to the political Opposition, which had vowed to topple Badawi’s coalition later that month.

Malaysia's on-line 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,” 08KUALALUMPUR806 stated.

08KUALALUMPUR806 states that: “the arrest is another sign of insecurity on the part of Abdullah and the UMNO party. The government’s use of 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.

Home Minister Albar stated: “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 also said that 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’s arrest came the day after the Cabinet ordered the Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) to re-instate access to all blocked-websites, including Kamaruddin’s ‘Malaysia Today’ site- which was blocked on August 27.

Kamaruddin has been detained under the ISA before. Former Prime Minister Matahir detained him under the ISA in April 2001 for his involvement in when former DPM Anwar Ibrahim initiated [the] ‘reformasi’ movement. Kamaruddin was held for 53 day days: then released, reportedly due to pressure from the King, the late Sultan of Selangor who was Kamaruddin’s uncle; the current Sultan of Selangor is his cousin.

The cable specifies “the US reaction to the arrest today (September 12) of blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin under Malaysia Internal Security Act (ISA)”.
It states that if asked on Malaysia’s use of the internal security act, the US would respond with: “As a matter of principle, we hope that countries refrain from using national security laws to curtail the peaceful expression of political views and media freedom.”