Muzzling the media in Malaysia: libel and censorship

It was abundantly clear from the reaction to the Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9th that the Malaysian government has become ever more insecure about its hold on power.  And yet as the government becomes ever more insecure the measures it resort to in order to shore up its hold on power become ever more disproportionate and some might say desperate.  Last week provided two examples of this.

The first was the ruling on July 19th in a defamation case brought by Interior Minister Rais Yatim against blogger Amizudin Ahmat.  Amizudin Ahmat, better known as ‘Din Binjai’, had posted a blog entry that alleged a Cabinet Minister had raped his Indonesian housemaid besides a picture of Rais. The judge rule in favor of the minister and ordered that Amizudin pay RM400,000 (approx. $120,000).  

While the Malaysian government remains officially committed to its policy of not censoring the Internet in the last few years it has opted to pursue individual bloggers in the courts confident that a largely compliant judiciary will pass judgments whose cumulative effect will be self-censorship to avoid similar damages. This decision comes on the back of a ruling in February when Malaysia’s most famous blogger, Raja Petra Kamarudin was found guilty of defaming senior lawyer Seri Muhammad Shafee Adbullah over three articles posted on his website Malaysia Today. To date damages have yet to be decided but Raja Petra has been in exile since 2008 when the charges were first brought against him.