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Cablegate: Unprecedented Sedition Charges Against Blogger

VZCZCXRO8282
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #0355/01 1290832
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 080832Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0937
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUALA LUMPUR 000355

SIPDIS

FOR EAP/MTS AND DRL - JANE KIM

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/18/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINR KDEM KPAO MY
SUBJECT: UNPRECEDENTED SEDITION CHARGES AGAINST BLOGGER

REF: A. A) KL 130 - PRESS STIFLED IN ALTANTUYA TRIAL
B. B) KL 73 - PROSECUTOR DOWNBEAT ON ALTANTUYA CASE
C. C) 2007 KL 291 )RAZAK BAGINDA CASE

Classified By: Political Section Chief Mark D. Clark for reasons 1.4 (b
and d).

1. (C) Summary. For the first time, Malaysian authorities
have resorted to a colonial-era law to bring sedition charges
against a blogger and the author of a comment on an internet
web site. Blogger and veteran anti-government activist Raja
Petra Kamaruddin touched a sensitive nerve in implying that
DPM Najib Tun Razak and his wife were connected to 2006
murder of a young Mongolian interpreter, Altantuya Shaaribuu
(reftels). He also accused PM Abdullah of holding on to
evidence that implicates his deputy to &keep Najib in
line.8 Visiting EAP DAS Marciel raised the issue with
Deputy Home Minister Wan Farid on May 6, and Wan Farid
indicated the proceedings against Raja Petra should be a
warning to other bloggers. The Raja Petra case will continue
to keep public focus on the Altantuya case and allegations of
Najib's involvement. Prosecuting a blogger for sedition also
complicates Prime Minister Abdullah's efforts to be seen as a
reformer. End summary.

Colonial-era Sedition Act utilized
---------------------------------
2. (SBU) On May 6 Malaysian Police charged blogger Raja Petra
Kamaruddin and Syed Ali Akhbar, who posted a comment on Raja
Petra's website, with sedition. This is the first time
Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act (enacted by British
colonial authorities in 1948) has been used in response to
material appearing on the internet. The Section reads, &Any
person who prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale,
distributes or reproduces any seditious publication8 can be
charged with sedition. If found guilty, Raja Petra and Syed
Ali could be jailed for a maximum of three years and/or face
a fine of up to USD1,600. Syed Ali was released on bail
after pleading not guilty and the court fixed June 10 to hear
submissions by the defense and prosecution on a preliminary
objection raised by the defense, which claimed that the
charge was groundless. Raja Petra initially refused to post
bail and was remanded at the Sungai Buloh prison, but on May
8 he changed his stance and he was scheduled to be released
on bail May 9. His trial is fixed for October 6-10.

3. (SBU) Another prominent blogger described Raja Petra,s
action to poloffs as a gambit to ¬ only generate
publicity for himself but also for his news portal Malaysia
Today (www.malaysia-today.net).8 The local blogger
community as a whole has reacted with outrage to what is seen
as a threat to the free exchange of ideas on the internet.
The Malaysian Bar Council called on the authorities to
withdraw the charges against Raja Petra and Syed Ali,
describing the relevant section of the Sedition Act as &a
draconian, archaic and repressive legislation that has long
outlived any perceived utility it might ever have had.8 A
number of prominent civil society groups issued a statement
characterizing Raja Petra,s arrest as &politically
motivated and aimed at silencing principled and
uncompromising voice speaking against the abuse of power,
including those stemming from the highest level of government
and authority.8

4. (C) DPM Najib publicly denied that the arrests were
politically motivated or an indication of government
intentions to crack down on internet sites. Visiting EAP DAS
Scot Marciel raised the case with Deputy Home Minister Wan
Farid on May 6 and questioned why the government was using
sedition charges in such a case. Wan Farid said bloggers
could not be allowed to accuse people of murder and not back
up such claims. "You can't just (post) anything on the
internet," and not expect consequences, indicating this was a
warning to other bloggers. The government would proceed with
the case in court, Wan Farid said.

Raja Petra ) a thorn in UMNO,s side
--------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Raja Petra was charged after posting an article on
his website on April 25 entitled &Let,s send the Altantuya
murderers to hell8 that implied that DPM Najib Tun Razak and
his wife Rosmah Mansor were connected to the 2006 murder of a
young Mongolian interpreter, Altantuya Shaaribuu. He also
accused PM Abdullah of holding on to evidence that implicates
his deputy in order to &keep Najib in line.8 Two police
officers from the security detail of DPM Najib have been
charged for killing Altantuya, while Abdul Razak Baginda, a
close associate of DPM Najib, was charged with abetting the
murder. The murder trial that began in June 2007 has been
dragging along for nearly a year, giving rise to suggestions
of deliberate delays for political reasons (Ref A ).

6. (SBU) This is not the first time Raja Petra, a cousin of
the current Sultan of Selangor, has challenged the ruling
establishment. He was one of the key leaders of the
&reformasi movement8 launched in September 1998 by former
DPM Anwar. In 2000 he became the Director of the Free Anwar
Campaign (FAC) and founded the &FAC website8 that regularly
posted articles criticizing the government. In 2001 he was
detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and held for
52 days before being released unconditionally, reportedly due
to pressure from his uncle the then King, the late Sultan of
Selangor. In July 2007 he was detained, questioned and
released after UMNO Information Chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib
filed a police report against him for allegedly insulting the
King and Islam.

7. (SBU) Raja Petra launched Malaysia Today in August 2004
&to test how far Malaysia under its new Prime Minister (PM
Abdullah) can honor, respect and tolerate free speech." The
blog grew to an average of 1.5 million hits a day and was
voted one of the top ten websites by local internet users in
2007. One reporter describes it as Malaysia,s answer to the
U.S. &Drudge Report,8 a news aggregation site, &dedicated
to entertaining tales of political intrigue.8 In meetings
with poloffs, Raja Petra has nevertheless insisted that all
of his reports are backed by &hard evidence.8

8. (SBU) UMNO leaders have blamed internet media and
bloggers, in particular Raja Petra, as contributing to the
BN,s setback in the March election. Raja Petra agreed,
telling reporters on May 6, &They lost in the election
because of the internet war. Malaysia Today was one of the
'culprits'.8 He added that his defense team would prove
there was no case against him and that it was a matter of
&political persecution8. One sympathetic academic described
the action against Raja Petra as &the return to sledgehammer
rule by UMNO,.8 but added recalcitrant bloggers like Raja
Petra threaten UMNO,s survival, because the ruling party has
failed to find a formula for countering its internet critics.

Syed Akhbar Ali: &Easy to Impress the Malays8
--------------------------------------------- ------------

9. (SBU) In Syed Akhbar Ali,s case, the author was belatedly
charged for posting a comment in June 2007 on a Raja Petra
authored Malaysia Today piece alleging strong links between
Inspector General of Police Musa Hassan and a major organized
crime syndicate. Raja Petra had written that the syndicate
protected by the IGP was involved in &prostitution, drugs,
and illegal gambling.8 In his comment, titled &Easy to
Impress the Malays,8 Akhbar used crude language in
maintaining that massage centers are mushrooming in the city
due to the sudden increase in Arab visitors, and in a similar
vein went on to make some scurrilous comments about the Arabs
and Islam, and the naivety of Malays in accepting Arab ideas.

Comment
-----------

10. (C) In another indication of the growing influence of
internet media, both DPM Najib and his wife have been
compelled to go public in responding to Raja Petra,s report,
maintaining that the allegations are &unfounded and
unfair.8 The Raja Petra case will continue to keep public
attention on the Altantuya murder and on allegations of
Najib's involvement in the crime at a time when Prime
Minister Abdullah has announced Najib as his eventual
successor. Prosecuting a blogger for sedition complicates
Prime Minister Abdullah's efforts to be seen as a reformer
and will further boost the profile of Malaysia's
anti-government internet activists.

KEITH

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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