Malaysia Shuts Down an Internet Gadfly

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the Internet journalist whose Malaysia Today website has been a leading voice in pointing out corruption and crime in Malaysia, has been shut down by all 21 of the country’s Internet Service Providers on the orders of the government.

The Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission, an independent commission set up to govern the Internet, issued the order Tuesday on grounds that the website had committed acts that contravene the local laws of the country, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based Star newspaper. Malaysia Today has tens of thousands of daily readers.

Almost immediately, however, Raja Petra launched a “mirror site,”‑ http://mt.harapanmalaysia.com/2008/ ‑ and published Malaysia Today on it.

"Everyone is subject to the law, even websitesand blogs," Syed Hamid Albar, the Home Minister told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. "We do not intend to curtail people's freedom or the right to expres themselves. But when they publish things that are libellous, slanderous or defamatory, it is natural for (the commission) to act."

Among other things, Raja Petra has repeatedly accused Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, of complicity in the 2006 murder of Mongolian translator Altantuya Shaariibuu. He has also been charged with sedition and sued multiple times for defamation by political figures in Malaysia. He was ordered jailed in May after an article titled “Let’s Send the Murderers of Altantuya to Hell” that not only linked Najib to the murder but accused Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of withholding evidence about the case. He refused to pay RM5,000 in bail and protested what he called “political harassment.”

It was just one of a long string of accusations Raja Petra has leveled against top officials of the United Malays National Organisation, the country’s leading ethnic political party. He is shielded somewhat by the fact that he is a member of the royal family of Selangor state and it is extremely rare for members of Malaysia’s royalty to be charged with crimes.

Raja Petra told local reporters the shutdown was a breach of the country’s multimedia charter, which states that the government promises to ensure no Internet censorship.

“The government has clearly broken its own promise,” Raja Petra told The Star. Asked whether he was notified of the reason for the blocking, he answered no. “I will turn this into a big issue, no doubt. When it is known that the government has violated the charter, [the commission] will die. I will personally see to it,” he said.

For shutting down Malaysia today, wrote Jeff Ooi, a newly elected opposition member of parliament and prominent blogger, the multimedia commission “should be hanged for stifling Internet. The head honchos, who… take orders from Putrajaya [the government headquarters] instead of acting as an independent commission created through a parliamentary act ‑ had erred. Most importantly, the [commission members] are not our final judge to decide what is good and what is bad for Malaysians in the access to information. Malaysians who are online are mature enough to discern what's good and what's bad. It's only idiots ‑ yes, IDIOTS at MCMC ‑ and those who are not online who are fearful of the Internet.

“Raja Petra can be penalized if he missteps any of the Malaysian laws,” Ooie wrote. “He knows that as he is now facing various police harassment over alleged seditions and civil suits from what he wrote about the Police Force and about the C4 [explosives used to blow up the body] murder of that Mongolian woman, just to quote a few. But the commission cannot prosecute Raja Petra while these cases are being disposed by the bench. By so doing, the commission is sucking up to their paymasters at Putrajaya.”

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