Saturday, July 28, 2007

Malaysia Cracks Down
On bloggers, Faces Criticism

IT News, Australia

A press freedom watchdog has criticised Malaysia after police in the mainly Muslim nation grilled an Internet-based writer over postings the ruling party called an insult to Islam and a bid to stir racial tension.

Scathing Internet criticism has embarrassed Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's government several times this year, whether over complaints of corruption among senior officials or scurrilous talk about the private lives of others.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists was concerned over the eight-hour interrogation of the founder of the Web site Malaysia Today over a complaint by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) that leads the ruling coalition.

"We call upon the Malaysian authorities to immediately cease harassment of Internet journalist Raja Petra Kamarudin," Joel Simon, executive director of the panel, said in a statement.

"Any new laws tailored to censor the Internet would represent a significant step backward for press freedom in Malaysia."

Raja Petra saw the campaign against bloggers as a bid to keep complaints about corruption out of the public eye at a time of growing expectations that Abdullah's government could hold early general elections, as soon as early 2008.

"Bloggers are begining to get a very wide readership and a lot of the things authorities would like hidden no longer stay hidden, so they find they are losing a lot of credibility."

Raja Petra said he was questioned about reader comments posted on his Web site, rather than his articles on corruption among police and government officials.

"The bottom line is, what you post in the comments section may get me sent to jail under the Sedition Act," he said.

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