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Cablegate: Opposition Journalist Detailed Under the Internal Security Act

VZCZCXRO1610
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHKL #0806/01 2561240
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 121240Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1642
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUALA LUMPUR 000806

SIPDIS

FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2018
TAGS: PGOV KDEM MY
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION JOURNALIST DETAILED UNDER THE INTERNAL SECURITY ACT

REF: KUALA LUMPUR 787

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

1. (C) Summary: Malaysian police on September 12 arrested
controversial blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin under the
Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention
without trial. Raja Petra's arrest came days after Prime
Minister Abdullah threatened to use the ISA to clamp down on
those allegedly stoking racial and religious tensions. The
arrest stands 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. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Malaysian police detained Raja Petra Kamaruddin,
prominent blogger and editor of the controversial website
"Malaysia Today", under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on
September 12. The ISA allows for detention without trial.
This is the first time the Act has been implemented for
blogging. Raja Petra's detention came days after Prime
Minister Abdullah Badawi told reporters that the government
would use the ISA on those who stoke racial and religious
tensions, following inter-racial feuding in this coalition
and mounting challenges to Abdullah's authority and political
position (Septel).

3. (U) Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who approved Raja
Petra's ISA detention order, told reporters that the blogger
was detained under Section 73(1) of the ISA because he was
deemed a threat to security, peace, and public order. The
Minister explained that Raja Petra's detention came in the
wake of various statements published by him in his blog
"Malaysia Today," the latest being a commentary which
allegedly ridiculed Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Syed
Hamid stated, "We have called and advised him 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)." The
Minister added that under Section 73(1) of the Act, Raja
Petra would be detained for 60 days and the police will do an
assessment during the period. Syed Hamid added "if they feel
he should be held more than 60 days, the police will then
refer to me". Traditionally the minister will accept the
recommendations made by the police and sign the order under
Section 8(1) of the Act, which allows the person to be
detained for renewable two-year periods.
4. (U) This is the second time Raja Petra has been detained
under the ISA. The government of then Prime Minister
Mahathir detained Raja Petra under the ISA in April 2001 for
his involvement in former DPM Anwar Ibrahim initiated
"reformasi" movement. He was held for 53 days before being
unconditionally released, reportedly due to pressure from the
King, the late Sultan of Selangor who was Raja Petra,s
uncle. The current Sultan of Selangor is his cousin.

5. (U) Raja Petra's arrest came a day after the Cabinet
ordered the Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC)
to re-instate access to all blocked websites, including Raja
Petra's "Malaysia Today" website (which was blocked on August
27). Energy, Water and Com-mu-nications Minister Shaziman
Abu Mansor stated on September 12 that the Cabinet ordered
the move because there were other "harsher" laws in the
country, including the ISA, to "control the irresponsible
dissemination of information over the Internet and to bring
those irresponsible websites and blogs to book."

6. (C) Comment: 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. Raja Petra is
considered the most outspoken and controversial Internet
journalist, and is often a proponent of opposition views.
Aside from his ISA arrest, Raja Petra faces sedition charges
for articles implicating Deputy Prime Minister Najib in an
ongoing high profile murder case. Raja Petra's
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. This arrest may intimidate some activists, but
it also could result in a backlash by the independent media
and bloggers, and increase public disaffection with
Abdullah's leadership.

7. (C) As PM Abdullah and his UMNO party become increasingly
concerned over threats to bring down their government through
the crossover of 30 more BN members of Parliament, Raja
Petra's arrest also will be interpreted here as a warning to
the political opposition and its leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Opposition officials consistently have expressed concern that
the government could invoke ISA if they advance too far.
While not determinate given the fluid political situation and
UMNO's disarray, today's arrest of Raja Petra lends support
to the view that the UMNO-led government will take stern
measures to defend itself. End Comment.

8. (U) The Embassy offers the following draft "if asked"
press guidance.

Q: WHAT IS THE U.S. REACTION TO THE ARREST TODAY (SEPTEMBER
12) OF BLOGGER RAJA PETRA KAMARDUDDIN UNDER MALAYSIA'S
INTERNAL SECURITY ACT (ISA)?

A: We understand from press accounts that Malaysian police
detained Raja Petra, who is associated with the "Malaysia
Today" website, under an article of the Internal Security Act
covering threats to "security, peace, and public order".

We cannot comment further on the specific grounds for the
Malaysian government's actions.

We are aware that Raja Petra also faces legal complaints and
charges of sedition related to information posted on the
website.

The United States firmly believes that freedom of the press
and freedom of speech are fundamental components of a vibrant
democracy. Freedom of expression is a basic right embodied
in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The peaceful expression of political views is a cornerstone
of democratic rights and practice, as is the impartial
application of the rule of law.

(IF ASKED SPECIFICALLY ON MALAYSIA'S USE OF THE INTERNAL
SECURITY ACT)

A: 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.

KEITH

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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