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Opposition blogger ordered to pay exorbitant damages to minister

(RSF/IFEX) - 20 July 2011 - A Kuala Lumpur court today ordered political blogger Amizudin Ahmat to pay 300,000 ringgit (100,000 US dollars) in damages and 100,000 ringgit (33,000 US dollars) in costs in a defamation suit brought by the minister of information, communications and culture, Rais Yatim, over a blog entry suggesting that he raped his Indonesian maid.

The court issued its verdict on 4 July but did not set damages and costs until yesterday. The size of the total amount, 400,000 ringgit (133,000 US dollars), is exorbitant and constitutes an extraordinarily severe punishment for Amizudin, who blogs under the pen-name of Din Binjai.

"Amizudin clearly did not take all the necessary care, but he was not the author of the contested article, which he copied from a website," Reporters Without Borders said. "He subsequently apologized for not checking his sources and removed it from his blog. This evidence of good faith should have elicited a lenient response from the court and the minister, who instead persisted with his judicial persecution. We can only condemn this excessive damages award."

Amizudin, 42, posted the offending article on his blog on 28 December 2010. Headlined "Mister Minister, where are you trying to flee to?" it accused Rais of raping the Indonesian maid who worked for him from 1999 to 2007.

The blogger said he copied it from the Harakah Daily website without checking the source and accepted that it could be wrong. The article quoted an August 2007 report by the Indonesian NGO Migrant Care about the mistreatment of Indonesian emigrant workers.

After Rais filed his lawsuit, Amizudin travelled to Jakarta from 18 to 20 May in an attempt to meet the minister's former maid. Although he could not locate her, he spoke to Migrant Care researcher Indah Utamin, who did not want to be a witness at the trial for fear of the Malaysian authorities, Amizudin said.

The fact that Rais persisted with his lawsuit even after Amizudin had apologized and removed the article raises questions about his motives. A member of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Amizudin publicly accused a fellow party member of corruption last February. That person then left the party and joined Rais' party, the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

Malaysia is on the list of "countries under surveillance" in the "Enemies of the Internet" report that Reporters Without Borders released on 12 March.

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