Facebook user charged in Malaysia

Local student pleads not guilty in what is believed to be country's first indictment over use of Facebook to issue statement regarding recent church attacks.
Written by Lee Min Keong, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR--In what is believed to be a first for Malaysia, a student has been arrested and charged for comments made on his Facebook profile over the recent spate of church attacks in the country.

Mohamad Tasyrif Tajudin, 25, who was charged in the Sessions Court in Petaling Jaya for using the Internet to broadcast a statement that could jeopardise public safety, pleaded not guilty to the charge today. The court date for case mention has been scheduled for Mar. 4.

National news agency Bernama reported today that Tasyrif was charged with using the social media site to issue a comment with the intention of "disturbing others". The offending words, which were posted in Malay, translate to read: "Should I throw the petrol bomb there now...price is negotiable." The offence was said to have been committed at a home in Petaling Jaya on Jan. 10.

He was charged under Section 233(1)(a) of Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Act, which carries a fine of up to 50,000 ringgit (US$14,722) or a jail term of up to one year or both upon conviction. He was allowed bail of 6,000 ringgit (US$1,767).

Malaysia has seen a spate of firebomb attacks against churches following a Dec. 31, 2009 High Court ruling allowing Christians to use the term "Allah" to refer to "God". Allah, in Malay, is the word for god, but some in the country's Muslim community believe the word is exclusive to Islam.

The controversial ruling, which overturns a previous government ban of the use by non-Muslims, angered local Muslims. Ten churches, a mosque, a Sikh temple and a convent school, were among the buildings attacked.

The controversy has pushed locals to turn to the Web in a bid to rally support for the affected buildings. A blogger who started an Internet fundraising campaign for the Metro Tabernacle Church, which was attacked by arsonists, raised 8,467 ringgit (US$2,493) in four days.

Mohamed Rafick Khan Abdul Rahman, 45, started the donation drive on his blog after learning about the attack in Kuala Lumpur. He said donations poured in nationwide, and from the U.K. and Europe.

"People from all walks of life responded to this call to help the church, and 33 percent of them were Muslim Malays," he said in a report by English daily The Star. Rafick added that he wanted to send a strong message to Malaysians and the world that there were level-headed Muslims in the country who could differentiate between right and wrong. "There are many Muslims who believe in the value of religion. There are many Muslims who care."

The Malaysian government in 2008 had detained local blogger Raja Petra under the country's Internal Security Act and sedition charges.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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