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Mar 27, 2008


Malaysian political writer, opposition-run newspaper lose university libel suit
Herald tribute

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: A prominent political writer and an opposition-run newspaper must pay US$2.1 million (€1.3 million) in damages to a university in Malaysia's first successful libel suit involving online news, a verdict the defendants slammed Thursday as an attempt to muzzle dissent.

The High Court in northern Kedah state ruled Wednesday that Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin must pay 4 million ringgit (US$1.25 million; €800,000) to the state-run Universiti Utara Malaysia and its vice chancellor for publishing a defamatory article on the writer's popular news Web site in 2006.

The court also ordered a newspaper run by the opposition People's Justice Party to pay 3 million ringgit (US$940,000; €600,000) in damages for reprinting the article.

Raja Petra — who refused to attend court or appoint a lawyer to defend himself — wrote on his site that he would not pay the ordered compensation, calling the case a "little charade of justice in Malaysia." Along with other opposition activists, Raja Petra has claimed the case was mounted by government allies to target its critics.

Tian Chua, a spokesman for the People's Justice Party, said his party also refused to pay.

"This is a political move," Chua said. "It's persecution. They want to ensure the Internet will also face the same kind of prosecution if they challenge authority."

The university's vice chancellor, Nordin Kardin, denied the case was politically motivated, adding that Internet commentators should stop "writing whatever they liked or wished."

"We are not interested (in their political affiliation). Most important to us is to protect the good name of the university," Nordin told The Associated Press.

Nordin voiced hopes that the case would "be a landmark for this 'cyber-misconduct.'"

The defendants indicated they would not bother appealing.

Nordin said he would pursue payment and try to have them declared bankrupt if they resist.

Malaysian government politicians often accuse Internet writers and bloggers of spreading rumors and lies that aim to undermine public stability.

Police questioned Raja Petra last July over articles he wrote that criticized the government. Separately, two well-known bloggers were sued by a government-linked newspaper last year over postings about the paper and its executives that it claimed were libelous.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said earlier this week his ruling coalition suffered heavy losses in March 8 elections because it underestimated the opposition's online campaign.


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