Malaysian court frees blogger

SHAH ALAM, Malaysia Fri Nov 7, 2008 6:02am EST

1 of 3. Malaysian blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin waves after being released at the courthouse in Shah Alam outside Kuala Lumpur November 7, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

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SHAH ALAM, Malaysia (Reuters) - A Malaysian court freed on Friday a blogger who was detained under the country's draconian security laws and whose arrest in September sparked condemnation from the opposition and rights groups.

Opposition supporter Raja Petra Kamaruddin, 58, was held under Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows indefinite detention without trial.

He was suspected of being a threat to security for insulting Islam in this mainly Muslim country of 27 million people.

The blogger was brought to a court in Shah Alam, just outside Kuala Lumpur, where he was freed after a judge accepted his lawyer's plea saying the detention was illegal.

"This showed that ISA cannot be used. I hope this is not a political decision," Raja Petra, who said he was surprised by the finding, told reporters outside the court.

He later left the building in a friend's red Rolls-Royce.

Raja Petra's blog (mt.m2day.org) has been a thorn in the side of Malaysia's government, especially for Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The blogger is being tried in a separate court on sedition charges for linking Najib, who will become prime minister in March, to the gruesome murder of a Mongolian model.

The model, Altantuya Shaariibuu, was shot in the head twice and her body blown up with explosives in a jungle near Shah Alam in October 2006.

Najib has strongly denied the blogger's accusations, terming them "total lies." The issue has not halted his rise to the top of Malaysia's ruling party and he will be elected unopposed at party polls in March.

Another court last week freed a former aide to Najib charged with abetting with two policemen in the murder of the Mongolian.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) leads a coalition that has ruled this southeast Asian nation for 51 years but which stumbled to its worst ever election result in March when it lost its two-thirds majority.

Malaysia holds about 61 people, mostly Muslim militants and Hindu activists, under the colonial-era ISA that some critics say is randomly used to silent government critics.

The government, facing its biggest challenge to its grip on power since independence in 1957, has lately came under strong pressure to abolish the ISA.

The Bar Council, which groups about 12,000 lawyers, told Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last week he should use his remaining months in power to start dismantling the law.

"We question the wisdom of continuing to have such a repressive piece of legislation on our statute books," Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan said.

Abdullah's government faces a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, forced out of government in the late 1990s and then imprisoned on sodomy and corruption charges.

Anwar, confronted by what he says are trumped-up charges of sodomy, won a legal reprieve on Friday after a judge disallowed a bid by the prosecution to transfer the case to a higher court.

Anwar and his lawyers have argued against the transfer on fears he would not get a fair trial.

(Reporting by David Chance and Jalil Hamid; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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