Raja Petra Kamarudin continues attacks from his UK base
The Guardian, Monday 9 August 2010
When Raja Petra Kamarudin, one of Malaysia's best-known bloggers, heard he was to be detained without trial for the third time last February, he decided to flee the country. He was already facing sedition and criminal defamation charges after publishing a string of stories that linked the prime minister Najib Razak and his wife to the gruesome murder of a beautiful Mongolian translator, Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa, in 2006.
While Raja Petra says he was prepared to fight those charges in court, he was not willing to face detention without trial again under the country's draconian Internal Security Act. "Under the ISA, they bypass the court process entirely," says the blogger, whose Malaysia Today website regularly exposes the abuses of power that blight the south-east Asian nation. "If I'd let them get me a third time, I would have been a glutton for punishment."
By virtue of the fact that he was born in Kingston-upon-Thames before Malaysia gained independence, Raja Petra has a right of abode in the UK, so he laid low for over a year in Manchester before revealing his whereabouts in May.
Senior members of the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition, which has held power since independence in 1957, have dismissed Raja Petra's allegations as lies and called him a "traitor" who should have his citizenship revoked. The Malaysian government says it wants to bring Raja Petra to justice but it seems unlikely that the British government would agree to extradite him in such circumstances.
And, as Raja Petra notes, the UK government abolished the offences of criminal libel and sedition in January, so any extradition request would be unlikely to pass the legal test of "dual criminality" – that the offences in question must be criminal acts in both countries.
Maintaining his website, which he says gets 500,000-1,000,000 hits a day, is a full-time occupation. His latest scalp came last month when a member of the prosecution team in the ongoing sodomy trial of the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was dropped after Raja Petra alleged that she had had an affair with the key prosecution witness.
So long as he continues posting stories like this, it is unlikely that Raja Petra will return to Malaysia any time soon. In the meantime, he says, "I'm having fun watching them run round in circles trying to get me," he says.
Interviewing fugitive Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin
Ben Bland, Guardian UK
I met Raja Petra Kamarudin, one of Malaysia's best known bloggers, at a recent press conference in London, after spotting his trademark beret in the crowd. I subsequently interviewed him for a piece that's been published in The Guardian today.
RPK, as he's usually known, fled Malaysia after hearing that he was about to be detained without trial for a third time under the Internal Security Act, which was bequeathed by the British colonial regime.
But the same colonial legacy that threatened his freedom also proved to be his salvation. As he was born in the UK before Malaysia obtained independence, he has right of abode here.
Many senior members of the ruling United Malays National Organisation have called on RPK to come back to Malaysia and clear his name if he really believes he is innocent of the sedition and criminal defamation charges that have been levelled against him.
But, RPK says, he is less concerned about those charges than the fact that the government seems determined to detain him without trial again - the home ministry is still trying to overturn RPK's successful appeal against his ISA detention in 2008.
In any case, he says that it is for the prosecution to prove his guilt, not for him to prove his innocence.
"If the Malaysian government wants to prove my guilt, they will have to apply to extradite me and for them to be able to, they will have to satisfy a British court that I am guilty. Does the Malaysian government have the guts to try to convince a British court that I'm guilty? Because the standards set by a British court are very different."
Now that his Malaysian passport has expired. RPK is effectively stuck in the UK. Although he is free to remain in the UK, he has no official travel document so cannot leave the country.
But the chirpy trouble-maker doesn't seem too perturbed, saying he may even opt to stay in the UK if the charges against him are dropped by a future Malaysian government.
In the globalised era, distance is no bar to speaking truth to power and RPK has continued to be a thorn in the side of the Malaysian establishment from his Manchester base.
The success of his Malaysia Today website, which he says gets up to 1 million hits a day, is partly due to his high-level contacts within the establishment. RPK told me that he's twice been visited in the UK by a senior UMNO figure "of ministerial level".
Like all high-profile bloggers, he's also extremely prolific and spends "10-14 hours a day, seven days a week" working on his website, assisted by a team of Malaysian volunteers spread around the world.