Nazri Abdul Aziz, a minister with responsibility for justice, said as early as July 2007 that government would not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) against bloggers who broached overly sensitive subjects. Now it has happened.
The editor of Malaysia Today, a leading website for those who want to follow the country’s politics, Raja Petra has been declared a “threat to the social order and national security” because of his support for the opposition and his scathing criticism of the ruling coalition. He was transferred to the Kamunting detention centre on 23 September on an order issued by interior minister Syed Hamid Albar under article 8 of the ISA.
Issued without RPK’s family and lawyers being told, this ministerial order torpedoed a habeas corpus petition, the only recourse available to his lawyers, who had been unable to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of his detention. RPK had initially been held under article 73 of the ISA, which permits detention without trial for 60 days. Overnight, on a minister’s whim, he had found himself being held under article 8 of the ISA, which provides for detention without trial for up to two years. And the order can be renewed indefinitely. Earlier this year, RPK was charged with sedition and criminal defamation. Although his case has not yet been judged, he has already received a sentence of sorts through the ISA.
Ever since he first began getting involved in Malaysian civil society, RPK has been harassed by the police and government, who have no qualms about violating the right to free speech although it is guaranteed by article 10 of the Malaysian constitution. He was arrested and imprisoned for 53 days under the ISA in 2001. Access to Malaysia Today, the website that he has been editing since 2004, was blocked by the country’s ISPs at the government’s behest on 26 August. Since his arrest on 12 September, RPK has been subjected to interrogation of a religious nature, in which doubt is cast on his faith in Islam. Religious freedom is nonetheless guaranteed by article 11 of the federal constitution.
The Malaysian people have of late expressed their political will and their desire for a society in which the rule of law prevails, in which freedoms guaranteed by the constitution are respected by the government, without ethnic or religious distinction. Malaysian bloggers and independent media have a crucial role to play in this transition to democracy. The RPK case is one that concerns everyone because silencing a Malaysian citizen on account of his political or religious beliefs, whatever they are, means gagging an entire people. The ISA is a retrograde law, one worthy of an all-out dictatorship. Freeing Raja Petra means freeing the entire Malaysian people.
Reporters Without Borders