Another Malaysian Messenger in the Firing Line

By Farish A. Noor

A word, once uttered, can seldom be withdrawn. This is true for most of us and particularly true for politicians who forget that we now live in an age of modern communications technology where every sentence, every utterance, even every burp, hiccup and indiscreet bodily emission will be recorded for posterity.

What has now become a maxim of politics was amply demonstrated recently by the remarks of the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Tun Razak, who claimed during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur that Malaysia is an ‘Islamic state’ that has ‘never been affiliated’ to a secular position and that that Malaysia’s development ‘has been driven by our adherence to the fundamentals of Islam’. (Bernama, 17 July 2007) Needless to say, the Deputy Prime Minister’s remarks were a cause of concern for many Malaysians who — for the past fifty years or so — have been living under the assumption that the country was a constitutional democracy and not a theocratic state.

In due course protests issued from all quarters, ranging from the Malaysian urban liberal elite to the leaders of the mainly non-Malay non-Muslim parties of the country; demanding clarification on the issue and a re-statement of the fundamentally secular basis of Malaysia’s politics. As public frustration increased, the Malaysian government reacted as it is wont to do. While the Malaysian Prime Minister is on holiday in Australia, the government issued a blanket media ban on all discussion of the matter, on the grounds that it can only lead to even more public anger and misunderstanding between the racial and religious communities of the country; despite the fact that the source of the misunderstanding and discomfort was the Deputy Prime Minister’s remarks in the first place.

Notwithstanding the overt ban on media discussion of the Islamic state issue, however, Malaysia’s internet community has been active in keeping the question alive and well on dozens of websites and blogs all over the country. Indeed as developments over the past few years have shown, it is the internet where most of the really interesting and meaningful political discussions have been and are taking place.

The Malaysian authorities have been decidedly apprehensive about the role that the internet can play in deciding the tone and tenor of Malaysian politics, and for this reason numerous conservative politicians of the ruling National Front coalition have been calling for a curb on the activities of bloggers and those who post their ideas in cyberspace. The accusation most often levelled against them being that they spread ‘lies’ against the state and tarnish the image of the leaders of the country; a charge that resonates well in some other repressive states where dissent is likewise treated as a security threat, such as North Korea and China.

Just a week ago a Malaysian blogger — Nathaniel Tan — was arrested and taken in for questioning by the police due to some postings related to allegations of corruption against politicians in the country. Now that a blanket ban has been used to close the forum of public debate on the Islamic state issue, worries have been raised about whether this marks yet another attempt to clamp down on cyberspace and silence the bloggers and cyber-writers.

Following the arrest and subsequent release of Nathaniel Tan, another prominent Malaysian cyber-writer, Raja Petra Kamarudin, who runs the hugely popular site has had a police report filed against him by Muhammad Taib, former Chief Minister and member of the ruling UMNO party. The UMNO leader claims that Raja Petra, through his articles and postings on had insulted the king, degraded Islam and incited hatred in the country.

As yet it is not known which of Raja Petra’s postings are said to have been insulting to King and country, though he dismisses the accusations as being baseless. According to Petra: ‘This has nothing to do with allegations about misrepresenting Islam, though such an accusation is the most convenient since when I write about religion I am expressing my personal opinions which are subjective and can therefore be discussed. But what really upsets them are my exposes on corruption in the country, which have been backed up with documents I have posted on the site. How can they refute that?’

Indeed, Raja Petra’s site has been receiving hundreds of thousands of hits daily precisely because of his exposes on corruption among politicians, businessmen, Malaysian criminal networks as well as the Malaysian police force; the last of which has taken a battering over the years due to a series of scandals and exposes related to cases of police brutality, deaths in custody and of course the now-infamous beating of the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim.

Activists, journalists and legal experts are now worried about what this may hold for the future, for the arrest of Nathaniel Tan and the police report against Raja Petra would suggest that moves are being made to silence the messengers on the internet. In the words of prominent Malaysian lawyer Malik Imtiaz: ‘it would be regrettable if this latest action is part of a wider campaign to close down the public domain of speech and discussion on crucial matters such as Malaysia’s constitution and the question of whether Malaysia is an Islamic state.’

In the midst of this, the Malaysian government’s reaction has been one of denial and retaliation instead. The country’s state-controlled TV channel RTM1 featured an editorial piece condemning local Malaysian newspapers that ’cause trouble’ by raising sensitive issues on race and religion; while leaders of the ruling UMNO party continue to mouth a rhetoric of ethno-nationalism that is replete with communalist sentiments. The contradictions are clear, as is the paralysis of a government whose leader is on holiday while the messengers remain in the firing line.

  1. #1 by Godfather on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 10:37 am

    Muhammad is the true messenger, not RPK. Muhammad is the messenger for UMNO, the den of thieves and the true perpetrators of insults to the great Islamic faith.

  2. #2 by pwcheng on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 11:02 am

    Until today I do not see how the bloggers had destroyed the peace of the country as reported in today’s SUN on UMNO’s information chief Police report. Most of the time it is the government or more precisely UMNO itself that is destroying the peace of the country, “the drawing of the Chinese blood and the Islamic issues” are two very good examples of it as they are evidently highly sensitive and highly inflammable in this country. Another of it is that they always like to threaten the rakyat of another May13 if they go against the government. This type of threat is highly unacceptable and against the norms of a responsible government. Let the people decide which government they want to choose without any threat. All these are more like we are heading toward autocracy rather than democracy. If they want to have two set of rules and laws for the country, please do it discreetly and not in such crude manners, exposing it so clearly where even the blind can see. At the same time you must be prepared for criticism for such doings which is any sensible citizen will not accept it.

    Corruption and abuse of power are constructive criticisms. The irony here is one party having too much power for when you have it you loose your moral guidance and sometimes unconsciously you can stoop very low by employing low class tactics to silence others as you no longer can tolerate any criticisms. A good example is a reasonable, rational and intelligent father will know how to accept constructive criticism from the children but not an arrogant, half baked and abusive father who thinks that he has all the power in the family. UMNO is just like the latter.

    Grow up UMNO and lead the country through good governance and not through instilling fears on the citizen. You are more than 50 years of age and do not behave like one.

  3. #3 by undergrad2 on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 11:24 am

    Raja Petra has set himself for this exact situation he now faces for some time. The only question is why have they decided to openly wrestle with the idea of detention now rather than later – if not to silence free speech in view of the coming GE. Don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that!

    Whatever that is about to happen, our Prime Minister apparently disagrees with it and does not want to have any part in it. It is obvious that he doesn’t call the shots which is why he leaves it to his deputy who apparently has engineered whatever that is about to happen.


  4. #4 by Godfather on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 11:57 am


    You mean that even thieves can disagree on a course of action ?

  5. #5 by BobSam on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 12:16 pm

    PWCheng, please read Mat Tyson’s police report (as published by te press). It states that it could incite hate between the races.
    So did u file a police report about DPM & his cousin’s statements (DPM) and his cousin’s threat to MCA. Do you feel that it incites hatred for u? If yes, go to the nearest police station and file a report. Do mention that you support RPK in that report.
    Get a copy, and fax it to ur MP & ADUN. If 10K people do that today, the message to the cops will be clear. The message to those in Level 4 will also be loud & clear.

  6. #6 by revelation on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 12:32 pm

    the truth really hurts and they can’t turn blind eye to MT anymore cos MT are gaining more popularity each day.

    thanks to the UMNO own stupidity and in particular Muhammad2 for making the police report. Muhammad2, u just shot yourself on the foot! good job matey.

    in my opinion i think Muhammad2 is just a pawn in this game. blindly following orders from his masters. DPM comments not really helping Muhammad2 either. PM will conviniently come back from his holiday and we can expect the same tag line from him “i don’t know”..

    So…after Muhammad2, who’s next?

    lets spread this MT and uncle Lim website to reach more audience! put the website address in your email signature, in your,,,, every blogs…anymore? is there anyway we can put these websites in say Fox news or sky news or BBC..heck maybe even Al Jazeera?

    keep it up RPK and Uncle Lim!

    as Bob Marley said. “…you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the times…”

  7. #7 by Boneka on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 12:36 pm

    I agree with BobSam- yes Malaysians from all walks of life, from all the Mukims and Daerahs and from all Nationalities (Malays, Chinese, Indians and Others) should make police reports against Hisahmuddin and Mike Tyson for “threatening”, “Causing Fear and Tension”, for “Intimidation” This might send the message to our PM.

    But on the other hand – do THEY care? POWER in in their hands, THEY can do what they want! What can a few bloggers do- who are never far from being ‘arrested’ for speaking up the TRUTH?
    Lets go for a change of government! Thats the only way!

  8. #8 by k1980 on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 1:25 pm

    RPK, be extremely careful when challenging Mat Tahi-son to a duel. He might bite off a portion of your ear when he is losing…

  9. #9 by dawsheng on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 2:00 pm

    “You mean that even thieves can disagree on a course of action ?” Godfather

    Of course, these are not ordinary thieves by any definitions.

  10. #10 by dawsheng on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 2:20 pm

    Najib suppose to kowtim RPK before Abdullah come back but I guess Najib had underestimated RPK capabilties and popularity, it seems like they are hesitating to move in closer to nab RPK. Furthermore, UMNO has chosen the wrong person to make the police report, what more when the charges against RPK was baseless. UMNO did not realize RPK is not Nat Tan (Thanks to UMNO I know there is a Nat Tan) although both are anti-govt bloggers. Yesterday police report have not damaged RPK and MT reputation, in turn it helps to popularize RPK and MT to a new height. What better way to describe yesterday incident than to call it backfire.

  11. #11 by Utopia on Tuesday, 24 July 2007 - 4:29 pm


    The accusation most often levelled against them being that they spread ‘lies’ against the state and tarnish the image of the leaders of the country; a charge that resonates well in some other repressive states where dissent is likewise treated as a security threat, such as North Korea and China.


    I love this part. It is so so true! Tell your friends and family who still plan to vote for BN this coming GE!

  12. #12 by undergrad2 on Wednesday, 25 July 2007 - 1:37 am

    “You mean that even thieves can disagree on a course of action ?” Godfather.

    If there is honor among thieves, I don’t see why they cannot.

  13. #13 by Toyol on Wednesday, 25 July 2007 - 8:48 am

    The idealess BN people have no idea what RPK was talking about…so as usual they use religion and race as an excuse. That shows BN don’t know how to read!

    DAP and other opposition parties should really make a police report against those who disregard sensitivities of the people as well as to uphold the Constitution…that’s what patriotism is about.

  14. #14 by undergrad2 on Thursday, 26 July 2007 - 6:51 am

    Sure!! It is time to make a report against the police too.

  15. #15 by AhPek on Sunday, 29 July 2007 - 3:38 pm

    The puzzling thing about this government is its inclination in accusing other groups of inciting racial and religious intolerance. But in fact the people who are provoking and creating racial and religious unease are people like Khairy, Hishamuddin and lately the DPM.But then, the strangest point is that the PM did not even utter a word and he claims to be a PM of all Malasians. Wonder why?
    The DPM recent pronouncement that Malaysia is an islamic stateis not only atrocious but a blatant disregard for The Constitution. This however is not the first time he made such inflammable utterance.He has made racial utterances before to promote popularity amongst his community designed to advance his political aspirations.This time perhaps he has done this specifically to deflect the public’s perceptionof his involvement in the Altantuya’s case. By pandering to the sentiments of the muslim group he may hope that the story of his possible association in the Mongolian girl’s case can be pushed to the backburner, so to speak.

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