Malaysian blogger jailed for 2 years

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Malaysia jailed a prominent anti-government blogger for two years under a strict security law that can keep him in prison indefinitely for allegedly inciting racial tensions with his writings, a lawyer said today.

Online commentator Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin was already in police custody and was served a detention order last night under the Internal Security Act, said his lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar.

"He was taken this morning to Kamunting (Detention Center)," Malik said. "This is definitely a big blow to the idea of civil liberties, especially in a climate when everybody is asking for greater rights."

The order was signed by Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, who has said Raja Petra's writings on Islam pose a threat to national security by creating racial tension.

The minister has the final word on how long a person stays in jail under the act, and courts can only review the procedure of the detention but not the detention itself.

Raja Petra has increasingly infuriated authorities by publishing numerous claims about alleged wrongdoings by government leaders on his popular site, Malaysia Today, which serves as his blog as well as a news portal. The government has denounced most of Raja Petra's allegations as lies.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The detention comes at a time when the government's popularity is at an all-time low and is riven with factional fighting and faces the threat of being ousted by the opposition.

"I don't think the government did itself any favors in attempting to regain popular confidence," Malik said.

Raja Petra was arrested Sept. 12 under the security act, which allows for an initial detention of two months for investigation, followed by a two-year jail period that can be renewed indefinitely.

He will be held at the Kamunting Detention Center in the central state of Perak. The center houses about 60 detainees held under the security law, most of whom are suspected Islamic extremists.

Raja Petra's arrest triggered widespread protests by civil society groups, lawyers and other online commentators. Along with Raja Petra, authorities also arrested an opposition lawmaker and a journalist on Sept. 12, but they were released subsequently.

Five ethnic Indian activists who organized a massive anti-government rally last year are also being held in Kamunting under the security law.

The law is a holdover from British colonial days, when it was used against communist insurgents. Independent Malaysia's postcolonial government has kept it in the statute books and has used it sparingly against political dissidents, ignoring calls from opposition groups and others to disband the law.