Malaysian authorities have sent a prominent political blogger to jail for two years. Raja Petra Kamarudin, founder of the Malaysia Today website has been detained under a strict security law. The government accuses him of writing anti-Islamic articles, while his fellow bloggers call it an attempt to crackdown on dissent.
PM Abdullah Badawi is under mounting pressure to step down
Raja Petra Kamaruddin was arrested along with an opposition lawmaker and a journalist earlier this month under the Internal Security Act or ISA. The latter two were released quickly but Raja Petra was detained. Just a day before a scheduled hearing on his case, the home ministry ordered him to be sent to jail for two years.
He is now being held in Kamunting in northern Perak state, a detention centre which mostly holds suspected islamist militants. His wife Marina Lee Abdullah explains that the last few days were a horror for the prominent blogger. “During the past 11 days he was put in a small room with no windows and nothing. And when I met him he was not eating or drinking.”
Raja Petra runs a famous news website called Malaysia Today, which is apparently critical of both the government and the opposition. The authorities, however, have accused Raja Petra of posting articles which offended Islam, and were intended to incite racial tensions, hence causing a threat to national security.
Silencing the dissent
But his lawyers and rights activists have slammed the arrest, calling it a blow to civil liberty. Jeff Ooi, an opposition MP and a renowned blogger, says: “Raja Petra is a Muslim. I wouldn’t think that he would write something that is blasphemous to his own religion. But I think that he is a victim of political manoeuvres. He has raised some doubts about the present set of leaders. I think the ISA has been invoked to prevent him from speaking further.”
Under the Internal Security Act, Raja Petra’s detention could be extended without any trial. The law was drafted decades ago during British rule to fight a communist insurgency. But critics claim it is used regularly by the government to silent the dissent.
And as lawmaker Jeff Ooi claims in this particular case the government doesn’t have enough grounds to use it: “In Malaysia, there are different sets of laws that can deal with people responsible for causing racial tensions e.g. the sedition act. But putting him behind the bars without a trial is a draconian act."
Raja Petra’s arrest along with two other critics of the government this month also prompted the resignation of law minister Zaid Ibrahim, who openly rejected the use of the security law. Rights activists and the blogger’s community have now started a signature campaign to put pressure on the government to release him and to protest against what they call the infringement of free speech.
Raja Petra's wife Marina Lee Abdullah says she is closely working with the bloggers: “We have been collecting petitions online to secure his release and the release of all the other ISA detainees. But regarding demonstrations, I am not sure because we don’t want to give the government a chance to say that we are violent people.”
Raja Petra's arrest comes at a time when Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is under intense pressure from the opposition alliance to quit.
The opposition claims it has enough support from lawmakers of the ruling coalition who are willing to switch sides and bring down the government. Premier Abdullah has so far rejected the claims and refuses to step down.