Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Just What is Nathaniel Tan Being Held For?

Written by johnleemk on 2:43:21 pm Jul 16, 2007.
Categories: ,

There are a shocking number of misconceptions and rumours going around about the detention of Nathaniel Tan. To an extent this is to be expected, since the media in any country rarely get all the details right, but there have also been a lot of false rumours going around, proving that a lie does get halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

One that I really find annoying and irritating is the falsehood that Nat has been detained in connection to the doctored photo of Altantuya, Najib Razak and Abdul Razak Baginda.

Yes, such a doctored photo exists, but the skinny Chinese Malaysian male who published it on his blog is known as Tian Chua, not Nathaniel Tan. Nat works for Tian, but had no idea about the photo — I was there at the office, and it was a huge shock to all of us that Tian would do such a thing.

(We calmed down a little once Tian explained he intentionally doctored the photo in a very shoddy manner to prove a point. I can't say I would have done it, but it's at least comprehensible now.)

So what is Nat being held for? He is not under arrest — he has not been charged with, let alone indicted for any crime. He is being investigated in connection to a possible violation of section 8 of the Official Secrets Act, which forbids the communication of an official secret.

Yes, that's right. The police wanted to detain Nathaniel Tan for 14 days just so they could ask him a bunch of questions about his blog. They don't have any charges against him. (Fortunately the magistrate told them they only have 4 days to interrogate him.)

Now, this might make sense if they're investigating a possible act of terrorism. But what was the damaging official secret Nat supposedly published?

The official secret was found in a comment posted on his blog. And what did the comment say? Did it have details on that secret nuclear missile we've been hiding? Was it detailed blueprints of the Bakun Dam, which is actually meant to house a malevolent robot extraterrestrial instead of generating electricity?

Nope. The comment accused the Deputy Internal Security Minister, Johari Baharom (who only last week was finally cleared by the Anti-Corruption Agency of corruption allegations), of corruption. Nat intentionally deleted specific allegations, and directed readers to the commentor's website, which contains the full details.

So what are these details? Obviously I can't publish them here as they seem to be official secrets, but you can go and have a look for yourself. I had no idea that the amount of a bribe paid is an official secret, nor that the specific allegations made against a suspect held under the Emergency Ordinance are official secrets.

If the remainder of the comment that Nat left on his blog constitutes an official secret, I guess we should all just pack up and go home, right? Right? Well, virtually everything left in the comment by Nat is public information or allegations that would only be secrets if they were true.

What the Deputy Internal Security Minister's job is is of course public knowledge. That the Internal Security Minister is very busy and needs to delegate substantial jobs to his deputy is also public knowledge (otherwise somebody should haul up Rais Yatim for publishing detailed accounts of how the deputisation system came into place).

So what isn't public knowledge? The allegations of corruption, abuse of power, and so forth. Is this an official secret? If so, gee, thanks to the police for tacitly admitting that the allegations are true.

I don't know if Johari is corrupt as the claimant argues. I have not seen any convincing evidence of his guilt, and the ACA has cleared him. Nat said as much when he took down the verboten parts of the comment, stating that he refused to carry them on his blog because they were nothing more than unsourced rumours.

So what on earth is Nathaniel Tan being held for? Why is he being detained for allegedly publishing an official secret? Johari recently ordered the police to look into those who publish lies on the internet — and I'm sure he had lies about him in mind. But why go after Nat, who specifically told his audience that the claims are nothing more than puffery?

Only one answer comes to mind: intimidation. Nat is being held up as an example to deter not just bloggers but anyone who dares to make a small difference in Malaysia. Nat has been working to involve people in the fight for change, whether they make a contribution that is big or small, and the establishment is afraid of it, because it is totally different from the partisan crap that a lot of opposition leaders have been spewing.

So, yes, I would say that the police are hoping to make an example of him. The Official Secrets Act is a sham, and this case fully demonstrates that. An official secret should be something vital to national security — something that would harm the country dreadfully if it fell into the wrong hands.

How does anything Nat published harm the country? How has he harmed our national security? The Official Secrets Act is no longer there to protect the country's secrets — it's there to protect the powers that be, and to muzzle those that the establishment despises.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.


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