Malaysian police to monitor websites amid crackdown on demos

KUALA LUMPUR, March 9 (AFP) - Malaysian police mounting a crackdown on anti-government protests said Friday they would investigate websites which call for street demonstrations.

Earlier this week police seized a computer from the operator of a website which supports jailed ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

Police have also arrested an opposition leader on suspicion of sedition over his alleged call for protests to topple Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government.

Officers will monitor websites that invite people to take part in street demonstrations, said deputy national police chief Mohamad Jamil Johari.

"We will monitor and investigate every such website. We will try to identify the individuals involved for us to take action," he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

Raja Petra Kamarudin who operates the FreeAnwar website, told AFP Friday that police raided his house Wednesday and seized a computer following a complaint about seditious articles.

"They said my articles on the website are very seditious and that posting such news on the website means inciting people to demonstrate and encouraging chaos in the country," he said.

Mahathir, who is promoting Malaysia as an information technology centre, has promised not to censor the Internet.

Opposition leader Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor was still behind bars after a judge ruled Friday that police have a right to remand him while they investigate him for alleged sedition.

Ezam was detained Monday following his alleged call in Sunday's edition of Utusan Malaysia newspaper for mass protests to topple the government.

Ezam, who is youth chief of the National Justice Party (Keadilan) headed by Anwar's wife, said he was misquoted. He said he spoke only of planned peaceful protests against alleged corruption and cronyism.

On Wednesday police obtained a court order to detain Ezam in custody till Saturday for investigations. His lawyers challenged the order in the High Court on Friday but the judge upheld it.

It was not clear if Ezam would be charged on Saturday. He could face up to three years' jail if charged with sedition and convicted.

Justice Abdul Wahab Patail said reported plans to hold street rallies "indicates that the scope of investigation is not as simple and narrow" as it involved the "participation and cooperation" of others.

"I cannot therefore say that the order of remand is wrong and would therefore confirm the remand order of four days to Saturday," he added.

Ezam, who was handcuffed as he was led out of court, said: "Another day in the lockup is nothing to me ... my arrest from day one has raised many concerns.

"I will pursue my earlier intentions to take legal action against Utusan Malaysia for purportedly plotting with some UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) leaders to give a very negative image of me."

Demonstrations are illegal in Malaysia without a permit and were once a rare occurrence. But street protests have become more common since Mahathir sacked his heir apparent Anwar in September 1998.

Anwar was later convicted of abuse of power and sodomy and jailed for a total of 15 years in what he says was political persecution. The government denies any political motive.