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Journalist on trial for sedition

world Updated: Oct 06, 2008 09:11 IST
Journalist on trial for sedition in Malaysia

The editor of Malaysia's best-known anti-government news portal went on trial on Monday for sedition for allegedly implying the deputy prime minister was involved in the murder of a young Mongolian woman.

Raja Petra Raja Kamaruddin, who denies the allegation, is already in jail in a separate case under the Internal Security Act, a law that allows indefinite detention without trial.

The two cases against Raja Petra, who runs the popular Malaysia Today news site on his blog, have provoked an outcry against the government, with detractors accusing it of misusing the judiciary to crack down on critics and suppress freedom of speech. "They are penalizing him twice ... It's double jeopardy. But his spirits are up," said Raja Petra's wife, Marina, at a district court where the frail-looking activist, wearing flip-flops and sporting stubble, was brought in handcuffs in a police van for the trial.

If convicted, Raja Petra, popularly known as RPK, faces up to three years in jail.

About three dozen supporters gathered outside the court, wearing T-shirts bearing slogans such as "I am with RPK," "Free RPK," and "No to ISA."

The sedition charge stems from an April 25 article titled "Let's Send the Altantuya Murderers to Hell" that Raja Petra posted on his Web site. It allegedly implied that Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were involved in the 2006 killing in Malaysia of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian interpreter. Both have denied involvement.

Two policemen have been accused of killing her and destroying her body with explosives in a jungle clearing. Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Najib, is charged with abetting the murder. The trial of the three men is under way.

The prosecution contends that Abdul Razak had the woman killed because she pestered him for money after he ended an affair. Five months after Raja Petra was charged with sedition, he was arrested on Sept. 12 under the Internal Security Act for publishing articles that the government says created racial tension in this multiethnic nation. He is being held at the Kamunting prison in central Malaysia.

Some of Malaysia's most popular blogs offer strongly anti-government commentaries and present themselves as a substitute for mainstream media, which are controlled by political parties or closely linked to them.

The government estimates there are more than 700 Malaysians who blog on social and political issues.