(Malaysian Courts support Freedom of Expression) News: Malaysian court orders blogger to be freed

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Fouad Bajwa

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Nov 7, 2008, 12:40:04 AM11/7/08
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Malaysian court orders blogger to be freed
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/06/malaysia.blogger.ap/index.html

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
- Court orders release of editor of anti-government Web site
- Raja Petra Kamaruddin was arrested for allegedly causing racial tension
- Judge rules home minister acted outside his authority in ordering arrest

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- A Malaysian court ordered the editor of
an anti-government news Web site released from detention Friday,
ruling that his arrest under a law allowing indefinite incarceration
was unlawful, a lawyer said.

Shah Alam High Court Justice Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad ruled that
the home minister acted outside his powers in having Raja Petra
Kamaruddin arrested September 12 for allegedly causing racial
tensions, said Raja Petra's lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar.

"It's a historic ruling and definitely a wonderful step in terms of
civil liberties in Malaysia," Malik Imtiaz said.

He quoted the judge as saying the grounds given for Raja Petra's
detention were insufficient and his arrest under the Internal Security
Act was unlawful.

The ISA allows the government to detain anyone for an initial two-year
period without charges and to extend the detention indefinitely.

Raja Petra, who was accused of threatening public security and causing
racial tension by publishing writings that ridiculed Islam in this
Muslim-majority country, was to be taken to court later Friday to be
formally set free.

It's not the first time that a court has ordered the release of ISA
detainees, and the ruling also does not prevent the government from
rearresting him under the ISA. The government can also appeal the
ruling.

Raja Petra, 58, has increasingly infuriated authorities by publishing
numerous claims about alleged wrongdoing by government leaders on his
highly popular site, Malaysia Today. The government has denounced most
of Raja Petra's allegations as lies.

He is also on trial in a separate case, having been accused of
sedition by implying that Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was
involved in the murder of a Mongolian woman. Raja Petra denies the
allegation. If convicted, he faces up to three years in jail.

The legal controversies come at a time when the government's
popularity has hit at an all-time low while the ruling party is riven
with factional fighting and faces the threat of being ousted by the
opposition.

The Internal Security Act is a holdover from British colonial days,
when it was used against communist insurgents. Independent Malaysia's
postcolonial government has kept the act in the statute books and has
used it sparingly against political dissidents, ignoring calls from
opposition groups and others to disband the law.

Raja Petra's arrest triggered widespread protests by civil society
groups, lawyers and other online commentators.

Some of Malaysia's most popular blogs offer strong anti-government
commentaries and present themselves as a substitute for mainstream
media, which are controlled by political parties or closely linked to
them.

The government estimates there are more than 700 Malaysians who blog
on social and political issues.

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