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Authorities to act against student over "seditious" national anthem rap on YouTube; police interrogate blogger's wife

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Malaysian authorities are looking to come down hard on a student in Taiwan who has allegedly insulted nationalistic and Islamic sensibilities in a music video uploaded on the popular video-sharing website YouTube.

In the clip, the student, going by the name "Namewee", turned the Malaysian national anthem, "Negaraku" (My Country), into an angst-ridden rap, sung in a mix of Mandarin and Malay. Touching on police corruption, the unequal economic opportunities in the country, the dominance of Islam as the religion of the federation, government red tape, the Chinese diaspora and other realities affecting the minority non-Muslim Chinese, it ends with a note: "Please don't sue me - I have no money." The video appeared on YouTube in mid-July 2007 and copies of it have been made on the site.

The ministries of internal security, education and culture, as well as the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have variously threatened to charge the student with the National Anthem Act and the Sedition Act. However, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Mohd Najib Abdul Aziz was reported by the national news agency Bernama to have said that the person could not be prosecuted as the video was made abroad.

The 1948 Sedition Act, a legacy of the British colonialists, broadly criminalises "seditious" speech with up to three years imprisonment or a 5,000 ringgit fine (approx. US$1,454), or both. The 1968 National Anthem Act punishes those who disrespect the anthem with a maximum fine of 100 ringgit (approx. US$29) or a maximum prison term of one month.

The onslaught against free expression on the Internet in Malaysia has reached critical levels as the authorities appear not to be sparing even family members.

On 8 August 2007, police questioned Marina Lee, the wife of blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, about her husband's website "Malaysia Today", which is being investigated for allegedly insulting the King.

Marina said that during the 40-minute interrogation, police were looking at jointly charging her and her husband, reports a local free expression rights group, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

The independent online daily "Malaysiakini" reported that Marina was asked about seven questions pertaining to her involvement with "Malaysia Today" and whether anyone else had a hand in it.

"Marina's reply was the same for every question: As a Muslim wife, she is obligated to follow and not go against her husband's wishes. Her husband has instructed her not to reply to any questions the police ask," said her husband, who accompanied her into the interrogation room.

CIJ, a SEAPA partner, said the government's threats display "a disregard of democratic practices and fundamental liberties, including the freedom to dissent" and "risks further aggravating dissatisfaction among Malaysians . . ."

CIJ is concerned that these incidents are part of a clampdown on expression critical of the ruling coalition, particularly UMNO, in the run-up to the next general election.

The multi-ethnic and multi-religious country is facing a deep schism following several high-profiled, controversial cases on religious freedom, disputes over the nature of the constitution and an apparent failure to stem corruption despite the promises of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. There are also increasingly vocal objections against a 20-year affirmative action policy designed to address income inequalities among the ethnic groups, which is still being implemented 16 years after it expired.

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