(Nikkei BP Group)
(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)
| Four Charged with Spreading Riot Rumors over Internet
September 30, 1998 (KUALA LUMPUR) -- Four people were charged in a Malaysian
court on Sept. 24 with spreading rumors of riots in the capital city
over the Internet.
|This is the first such case of its kind in Malaysia.
A woman and three men claimed trial to the charges and were released
on bail. The timing of the start of trials might be a warning to local
Internet users not to use the medium to stir up incidents in the city,
already troubled by demonstrations in the last two weeks over the sudden
sacking of deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
The woman, logistic trainer Tan Lai Yee, and three men, finance manager
Wong Yoon Sing, bank officer Au Yong Wai and site supervisor Lee Chun
Meng, were charged in separate courts with committing the offense under
Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code.
The offense carries a maximum two years' jail or fine, or both, upon
conviction. The four were detained under the Internal Security Act last
month after rumors surfaced in early August via e-mail that disgruntled
migrant Indonesian workers were amassing machetes and planning to start
a riot in the city to protest an Aug. 15 deadline to deport those who
had yet to renew work permits.
Hoax messages that Indonesians in two neighborhoods had begun to riot
on Aug. 7 caused panic provision buying by local residents and spooked
foreign exchange trading. The incident incensed the Malaysian government,
which denied the rumors and ordered a crackdown on the so-called "cyber
rumor-mongers." Police tracked down the culprits with the assistance
of government-funded Mimos Berhad, one of two Internet service providers
in the country.
The local Internet community was stunned that the ISP could so easily
trace the alleged originators of the messages and pry into their private
They said the arrests and subsequent charges went against the spirit
of the Multimedia Super Corridor, Malaysia's plan to build a high-bandwidth
global technology zone south of the city, which guarantees there will
be no censorship of the Internet.
A Mimos spokesman responded that it traced users' accounts only under
special circumstances and when law enforcement agencies submitted written
requests. Ironically, the bogus riots turned into reality for entirely
different reasons, when former deputy premier and finance minister Anwar
Ibrahim led an unprecedented 30,000-strong rally through the streets
of Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 20. He was protesting his sudden sacking by
Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
Anwar and several of his supporters were arrested under the Internal
Security Act the same day.
Running battles between pro-Anwar supporters and riot police firing tear
gas and water cannons have followed, with a number of arrests made over
the last week.
Anwar has since been charged in court (Sept. 29) for unnatural sex acts
and corruption -- allegations which he has repeatedly denied since he
was sacked on Sept. 2 and expelled from the dominant political party,
Umno, the next day.
Thousands of Malaysians, disappointed by local news coverage of the Mahathir-Anwar
furor, have turned to the Internet to source the latest foreign news
reports. More than 50 Web sites, including offshore mirror sites, have
sprung up mostly sympathetic to Anwar and his nascent reformation movement
against corruption, nepotism and cronyism in government.
The Net is also being used to organize protest demonstrations, and messages
advertising future gatherings have been posted on Web sites and mailing
lists. Users have indicated they fear that police may be monitoring
the content of the Web sites and mailing lists.
In another incident, service provider Mimos announced on Sept. 28 that
it had tracked down a person for allegedly inciting racial disharmony
through the Internet.
Mimos chairman and chief executive officer Dr. Azzman Shariffadeen said
the person's particulars have been handed over to the police upon their
"The person pretended to be of a certain race, for example race 'A,'
when he was interacting with another person of race 'A.' And later,
he pretended to be of race 'B' (when interacting with a person of that
race), thus creating havoc on the Internet," he told reporters during
a news conference at the Multimedia Asia '98 exhibition. He said it
is now up to the police to take further action against the person. Deputy
CID Director for commercial crimes, Deputy Commissioner Sedek Ali, confirmed
that police were "working closely" with local ISPs and warned "those
responsible" not to abuse the Net.
"Our investigations are purely within the ambit of the law, and also
to safeguard national security," he said, declining further details.
(Julian Matthews, Asia BizTech Correspondent)