Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests today of two journalists - Raja Petra Kamarudin, the editor of the online newspaper Malaysia Today, and Tan Hoon Cheng, a senior reporter for the Chinese-language daily Sin Chew - under the the Internal Security Act (ISA). They could be held for 60 days.
“The ISA does not provide for trial, and allows the police to hold a suspect without any grounds, solely on an interior ministry order,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Malaysia is one of the few remaining countries to permit such practices. These arrests are not only questionable, as a matter of principle, but also disproportionate. Raja Petra is the victim of judicial persecution while Tan is the victim of the government's mistrust of journalists. We call for their release.”
Aged 58, Raja Petra is accused of posing a threat to “security, peace and public order” under section 73 (1) of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which permits imprisonment without trial for two years. His lawyer, who said he would appeal against the order, said Raja Petra was arrested because of comments about Islam that he had posted on the Malaysia Today site (http://mt.m2day.org/2008/).
Raja Petra is already being prosecuted on charges of defamation and “sedition” in connection with articles and comments posted on Malaysia Today. He was previously arrested under the ISA in 2001 because of his role within the opposition National Justice Party, whose newspaper he edited. The authorities said its content was “seditious.
His family said around 10 policemen came today to his home in Sungai Buloh, outside Kuala Lumpur, and took him away for questioning in Bukit Aman. Interior minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar told the Malaysian Insider daily newspaper: “We have called and advised him many times about his statements, but he still continues writing in a way that could pose a threat.”
ISPs blocked access to his website under government pressure on 26 August (http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28347). But the site became accessible again yesterday.
Tan was arrested at her home in connection with an article she had written about comments by Ahmad Ismail, a Malay leader of the ruling UMNO party, who reportedly referred to Malaysians of Chinese origin as “squatters.”
Earlier today, the interior ministry sent letters to three newspapers - Tan's newspaper, Sin Chew, the English-language Sun and a newspaper linked to the party of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim - asking why they had published articles quoting these comments. The newspapers were warned they could lose their licences if they did not provide a satisfactory explanation within a week.
Nazri Abdul Aziz, a minister with responsibility for justice, said in July 2007 that the government would not hesitate to use the ISA against bloggers who broached overly sensitive subjects. Malaysia was ranked 124th out of 169 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, falling 14 places in two years.