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Blogger detained overnight, released, for posting image deemed "insulting" to police force

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Malaysia-based media watchdog the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) protests the recent spate of arrests of bloggers for alleged violation of the Sedition Act. CIJ, a partner of SEAPA, described the Sedition Act as a "broadly worded" law which "gives the state a free hand in punishing any form of expression."

"Judging by the frequency with which the Sedition Act is being invoked against bloggers, this law is clearly the preferred instrument to punish and harass bloggers who are being critical of state institutions and personalities," CIJ added in its statement.

Blogger Abdul Rashid Abu Bakar, owner of the blog "penarik beca" ("trishaw peddler", http://penarikbeca.blogspot.com/ ), was arrested on the night of 7 August 2008 and was released on bail at 5:00 p.m. (local time) the following day. The police did not officially charge him with any violation.

The Commercial Crime Unit said Abdul Rashid was detained for publishing on his blog a digitally-manipulated image of the police insignia, deemed to be "insulting" to the police force.

In Abdul Rashid's version, the head of a tiger in the insignia was replaced with that of a dog; the "jawi" script of "Allah" and "Muhammad" with "C4" (the explosive used in the murder of the Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu); and the word "Malaysia," with "Israel." Police also said Abdul Rashid was detained also for alleging in his blog that the police have made questionable deals with the triad society.

Despite these allegations, the police did not file any formal charges against the blogger and released him on 8 August.

On 6 May, blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin of the "Malaysia Today" was charged with violation of the Sedition Act for posting online his opinions on the murder of the Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu. Criminal defamation charges were also filed against him for his statutory declaration on the same subject on 17 July.

The CIJ said that the government's use of the Sedition Act and related criminal laws to stifle freedom of expression sends a chilling effect to other bloggers and writers.

"It takes away the room for the public to express critical opinion in any form on state institutions and key personnel. The broad discretion afforded to the police under the law also makes it convenient for the police, or any other state institution, to eliminate public scrutiny by criminalising critical behaviour. This goes against democratic practices in which public institutions are subject to the public check and scrutiny," the statement said in part. CIJ called on the government to repeal the Sedition Act which it said is being used against critics under the pretext of national security. "There are laws in place, such as those aimed at deterring incitement and hate speech, that sufficiently serve the purpose of maintaining national order and harmony," CIJ said in its statement.

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