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A prominent Malaysian blogger detained under the Official Secrets Act for comments on his blog accusing a minister of corruption is the latest victim of an emerging clampdown on online expression in the country and region, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

Nathaniel Tan, an aide to former Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim and webmaster for the main opposition group PKR, was taken from his office by three plainclothes policemen on 13 July on suspicion of possessing "official secrets" and remanded for four days.

Comments on Tan's blog - - accuse Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum of accepting bribes to release gangsters. Baharum was cleared of the allegations by the Attorney-General last week. According to national news agency Bernama, he had told police on the day of Tan's arrest to track down writers who "spread lies through websites."

Bloggers in Malaysia helped organise a vigil for Tan over the weekend and circulated an online petition that called for his release.

Tan is the second blogger to face legal action within a three-day period. On 10 July, an official investigation was launched into Tian Chua, a well-known activist and Tan's senior in the opposition party, for his photomontage on that implicated an elite police unit in a high-profile murder case.

According to SEAPA, already this year two bloggers and a news website are being sued for defamation, and a task force has been set up to look at how existing laws can be used to circumvent Malaysia's Bill of Guarantee against Internet censorship.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, a new law to prevent cyber crime is expected to come into force this week, the first law in the country to govern the Internet, says SEAPA. Known as the Computer-Related Offences Commission Act, the law identifies 12 types of Internet crimes that are punishable with up to 20 years imprisonment and a 300,000 Baht (US $9,420) fine. Crimes include developing, possessing, storing and disseminating "prohibited information."

But ARTICLE 19 says the law would "allow the authorities to take wide-ranging action to control even perfectly legitimate use of computers. This is likely to give rise to a profound chilling effect on the use of the Internet in Thailand."

One provision of the act requires Internet service providers (ISPs) to keep records of computer traffic for at least 90 days, which would allow authorities to identify who visits particular websites.

The current, interim government has already gained notoriety for its assault on the Internet after it came to power following the September 2006 military coup. Articles critical of the monarchy, pornography and content deemed as "threatening national security" were banned. According to SEAPA, an average of 10 sites are blocked a night, 90 to 95 percent of which are pornographic.

According to the anti-censorship group Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), 17,000 websites in Thailand have been blocked since the September 2006 military coup. Outraged with the government ruthlessly blocking websites, FACT has been distributing in Thai cities and universities thousands of copies of "Beat the Censors - Unblock ICT", a free CD with computer programmes that outwit the censors.

The self-described "weapon of mass instruction" contains 41 circumvention applications (with instructions) that can be used in "any censored country," info on how to use anonymous proxy servers to circumvent censorship, plus the government's latest and supposedly secret blocklists of thousands of websites. Also on the CD are FACT guides and analysis to the Thai bills and laws regarding censorship, including the act. All information is available in Thai and English.

For a copy of the CD, email FACT at: [email protected], or check out some of its contents on BitTorrent peer-to-peer networks or on FACT's website: And while you're there, sign FACT's petition against online censorship at:

Visit these links:
- SEAPA on Malaysia:
- Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) on Tan:
- SEAPA's capsule report on Internet censorship in Thailand:
- "IFEX Communiqué" on draft Computer-Related Offences Commission Act:
- Inter Press Service on Internet control in Thailand:
(Photo: Nathaniel Tan and Tian Chua on the day of Tan's release. Photo courtesy of

(17 July 2007)

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