(Nikkei BP Group)
(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)
| Internet Users Arrested for Spreading Riot Rumors
August 17, 1998 (KUALA LUMPUR) -- Malaysian police have arrested three
people for allegedly spreading rumors of riots in the capital city via
|The three are being held under Section 73 (1)
of the Internal Security Act (ISA) which
allows them to be held for up to 60 days.
A special police team set up to investigate the rumors arrested a 37-year-old
computer firm employee at his office and a 25-year-old woman at a construction
firm on Aug. 11, and a bank employee in his 30s, on Aug 12.
This is believed to be the first time Internet users in Malaysia were
detained under the harsh ISA law for allegedly compromising the nation's
Early in August, the Malaysian capital was rife with rumors, spread via
email and newsgroup postings and then by word of mouth, that Indonesians
were amassing parangs (machetes) and knives obtained from hardware stores.
On Aug. 7, hoax messages said that Indonesian immigrants in two neighborhoods
had started rioting to protest an Aug. 15 deadline to deport foreigners
who hadn't applied to renew work permits.
Indonesians comprise the bulk of the nearly 2 million foreign workers
in Malaysia, of whom many are illegal immigrants.
The rumors caused concern in the foreign exchange markets and panic buying
of food provisions by local residents who feared a possible police curfew.
The incident infuriated the Malaysian government, already reeling from
a worsening economic crisis, and hurting its efforts to bolster investor
The government threatened a crackdown on the so-called "cyber rumor-mongers."
Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor said the suspects were detained
after police tracked their activities on the Internet with the assistance
of Mimos Bhd., one of two Internet service providers in Malaysia.
"We have identified several other people suspected to be involved and
will soon make more arrests to end the rumor-mongering once and for
all," Abdul Rahim told reporters on Aug. 11.
"So far our investigations did not show any indications that the rumors
originated from outside (the country)," he said. Abdul Rahim said that
police were confident of arresting more suspects and determining the
source of the rumors and the motives of those involved.
The arrests and the means by which the police traced the alleged originators
of the messages shocked Malaysia's Internet community.
One Internet user, who requested anonymity, said the incident has caused
a "fear of reprisal" that may hurt Malaysia's ambitions for developing
"It goes against the grain of Malaysia's intentions to become a technology
hub through the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC)," he added.
The MSC is a 750-sq.-km zone that the Malaysian government hopes will
attract international information technology companies for developing
advanced software and hardware applications. The government has stressed
that one of the MSC's guarantees is that there will be no censorship
of the Internet.
"I think we are sending a wrong message to the world. The incident curbs
the building of Internet communities, and the freedom to interact globally
for fear of prying eyes," the Internet user said.
Mimos Bhd., the operator of the Jaring Internet service with about over
200,000 subscribers, said that it would trace users' accounts only under
Mohamed Awang Lah, Mimos vice president (government sector), said that
although the company had assisted in tracking down the alleged originators
of the rumor messages, it wished to dispel the notion that it screened
users' private email or that the police could do so.
"We do not monitor the content of email sent or received through the
network. We respect the privacy of subscribers and will only take action
to trace accounts when law enforcement agencies submit written requests
or if we want to take legal action and make a police report on Internet
fraud," Mohamed said.
He said Mimos would also conduct traces if it received complaints of
incidents of "spamming" (junk mail), "mailbombing" (flooding of an email
account) or the receipt of threatening or abusive email from users.
Mohamed said Mimos was able to trace the suspects from header trails
of the email or newsgroup postings. "From this information and by using
Jaring's audit trail records and account databases, Mimos could trace
the accounts used to send the mail," he said.
Last week, Mimos sent an email message to all its subscribers to remind
them not to send unsolicited mail to unknown people or redistribute
email from unknown or suspicious sources. Subscribers participating
in newsgroups or mailing-list discussions, were asked to refrain from
making any incorrect, false or misleading statements especially on matters
related to religious or racial issues.
Keyword: The Internal Security Act
The Internal Security Act, 1960, allows for detention without trial of
up two years. It was initially used against militant communists, but
more recently to muzzle government critics, passport forgers and others.
In 1987, 106 dissidents were detained under the ISA in a government
crackdown. Opposition parties, human rights workers and political activists
have vigorously opposed the ISA labeling it "draconian" and have repeatedly
called for its repeal.
(return to news)
(Julian Matthews, Asia BizTech Correspondent)