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Malaysia: Deface If You Dare

Categories: Advocacy, Malaysia

How do you draw the public's attention away from online media?

The answer is not to detain another blogger for sedition.

Malaysian bloggers were up in arms again when blogger Bakaq aka ‘Penarik Beca [1]’ was detained for sedition recently. Bakaq, whose real name is Abdul Rashi Abu Bakar, was detained (and since released) for defacing the Royal Malaysian Police [2] crest by allegedly substituting the tiger in the emblem with a dog.

undefaced [3]

According to newspaper reports, the 50-year old was taken from his home by four plainclothes policemen,  who had also seized the blogger's laptop and mobile phone.

It was reported that Bakaq was arrested under s. 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948 [4], which states:

4. (1) Any person who…

(c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication…

shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable for a first offence to a fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; and any seditious publication found in the possession of the person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs.

Bakaq's seditious publication also included alleged derogatory remarks by him on his blog about Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan. It was reported that Bakaq had claimed that Musa was controlled by Chinese crime syndicates.

A joint press statement [5] by Malaysian's National Alliance of Bloggers and the Centre for Policy Initiatives was released on the same day of Bakaq's detention condemning the move. Bloggers were riled, and some began a “Free Bakaq [6]online movement [7].

Bakaq was reported to have been released the following day, and is required to report in person to the Federal Commercial Crimes Investigation Department on August 20th 2008. Although he had apologised for replacing the tiger in the police logo with a barking dog, Bakaq was reported to have said [8], “I defended and still defend what I wrote.”

As yet, it is unclear what charges Bakaq now faces, and for which publishing. If it is merely on what he wrote (and not for defacing the police logo), surely then the question is private matter of defamation, and the taxpayers’ money is better spent elsewhere than funding the suppression of online expression?

However, In light of developments in the Malaysian blogosphere, it is unsurprising that the country's authorities criticise blogs for allegedly spreading rumours and/or inciting hatred towards the Government. Many opposition leaders [9] have taken to blogs, which openly question and/or criticise policy and leadership. Malaysia's former premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, has his own blog, CheDet [10], which is known to carry his usual witticisms and criticisms, even on his successor, current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi [11].