Malaysia: Rex Judicata

Six Malaysian Netizens will be charged on 13th March 2009, according to news reports. The charges are in relation to their alleged insulting of Sultan Azlan Shah on the Internet. The six will be charged in differing states within Malaysia, two of which will take place at the Sessions Court in the capital. It is also reported that a number of others are set to be charged on Sunday for alleged similar offences.

The offences the six (and others) will be facing is in relation to alleged comments and blog postings deemed to be insulting to the Sultan of one of Malaysia's states, Perak, over a political and constitutional crisis there. Netizens have stated their dissatisfaction with the former Lord President of Malaysia because he had made a decision which had caused the Citizen's Alliance Coalition (the Opposition in the Federal Government) to be ousted in the state government by the National Front, the coalition which has been ruling Malaysia for more than fifty years.

While a news source states that the charges against the individuals are in relation to the defacing of the Perak royal website, another has reported that it is not clear for what particular actions the individuals will be charged.

Reports also state that the individuals will be charged under section 233 of the Multimedia and Communications Act 1998 for “unwise use of network or network services for making comments, demands, suggestions or communication which are vulgar, false, threatening or disturbing”. Apparently, this will be the first time that this section has be invoked against anyone.

Update (13th March 2009): The charges against the alleged offenders are under section 233 of the Multimedia and Communications Act 1998 for “unwise use of network or network services for making comments, demands, suggestions or communication which are vulgar, false, threatening or disturbing”. The section has a maximum fine of RM50,000 or a maximum jail term of one year.

Most of those charged claimed trial, except Azrin Mohd Zain, 33, who pleaded guilty at the Sessions Courtof Kuala Lumpur and was fined RM10,000.

The Centre for Independent Journalism and the Writers Alliance For Media Independence have condemned the move, stating:

CIJ and WAMI are deeply concerned that a precedent has been set for online censorship using the same law that is said to protect the free flow of information online. It goes against Malaysia's commitment of no internet censorship legislated in section 3(3) of CMA and in the Multimedia Bill of Guarantees. The violation of the promise is a sign that the government, at the brink of the impending change in prime minister-ship, is getting more authoritarian. 

Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, Sam Zarifi, states in the organization's press release:

This development is a serious blow to freedom of expression in Malaysia and has set a very dangerous precedent for people wishing to express their views on the internet.

The move against the individuals comes at a time of heightened tension about the role of the monarchy, with some accusing the government of trying to halt discussion on this.

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