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Online critic rearrested, charged with criminal defamation over story

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Several Malaysian non-government organisations (NGOs) are up in arms over what they claim as the government's continuous invoking of laws to criminalise free expression.

In a press statement, SEAPA partner Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), along with the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI), said such offenses aare not consistent with the guarantee of free expression entrenched in the Federal Constitution.

They cited as example the offences of sedition and criminal defamation used in the arrest recently of blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin.

On 17 July 2008, police arrested Raja Petra at the Police Contingent Headquarters in the capital city and charged him with criminal defamation. Raja Petra at the time had been making statements on his statutory declaration linking the deputy prime minister's wife, Rosmah Mansor and two soldiers with the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Sharibuu.

Raja Petra, who had earlier written about the issue, as well as the alleged involvement of the deputy prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak, in his blog, , was charged on 6 May under the Sedition Act. He refused to post bail and was taken to the Sungai Buloh jail for three days. He is scheduled to go on trial on 6 October.

In a press statement, the NGOs said, "Free expression is a cornerstone of any democracy and space must be maintained for it. Though the legislating of laws aimed at preserving public order and security is permitted by the Federal Constitution, the offences of criminal defamation and sedition are not necessary to achieve these aims."

They further noted that there are laws in place that sufficiently serve this purpose, such as those aimed at deterring incitement and hate speech. There are also laws that allow persons whose reputations are injured to seek compensation through civil proceedings.

The statement also added, "We call on the Government and the authorities to desist from relying on those laws that criminalise expression and to take steps towards repealing the same in fulfilment of its commitment to international human rights norms. We also call on the authorities to immediately release Raja Petra and to drop charges for sedition and criminal defamation against him."

Updates the Raja Petra Kamarudin case:

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