Malaysian authorities today freed a blogger who edits an anti-government news website, after a court ruled his arrest under a law allowing indefinite detention was illegal.
Raja Petra Kamaruddin’s arrest in September for allegedly causing ethnic tensions sparked condemnation from the opposition and rights groups.
Today a high court judge ruled that Malaysia’s home minister acted outside his powers in using the Internal Security Act (ISA) to detain him.
Five hours later, a weary-looking Raja Petra, whose blog Malaysia Today has been a thorn in the side of the government, embraced his tearful wife and daughters outside the court in Shah Alam city, near Kuala Lumpur. He had been brought from a prison camp in the north of the country.
‘I’m really glad it’s over. I’m really tired. The judge’s decision proves there is no justification for my detention,’ Raja Petra, 58, told reporters.
‘This showed that the ISA cannot be used. I hope this is not a political decision.’
He has infuriated authorities by publishing numerous claims of alleged wrongdoing by government leaders on his popular site.
The government has denounced most of his allegations as lies and has accused Raja Petra of threatening public security and causing ethnic tension by publishing writings that ridiculed Islam in the Muslim-majority country.
He is also on trial in a separate case, accused of sedition by implying that deputy prime minister Najib Razak was involved in the murder of a Mongolian model and faces up to three years in jail if convicted.
Najib has strongly denied the blogger’s accusations, terming them ‘total lies’.
Raja Petra’s arrest was condemned by civic groups, lawyers and online commentators.
His lawyer, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, said the judge who ordered his client’s release said the grounds given for his detention were insufficient.
The ISA allows imprisonment without charge for an initial two-year period, with indefinite extensions possible.
The court order was ‘definitely a wonderful step in terms of civil liberties in Malaysia,’ Malik Imtiaz said.
But the ruling does not prevent the government from rearresting Raja Petra, and it can also appeal against the decision.
Some of Malaysia’s most popular blogs offer strong anti-government commentaries and present themselves as a substitute for mainstream media, which is controlled by political parties or closely linked to them.
Around 61 people are held under the colonial-era ISA. Critics say it is used randomly to silence government critics.
The government, facing its biggest challenge to its grip on power since independence in 1957, has recently come under strong pressure to abolish the ISA.