Former Student Arrested by Malaysian Government

Police continue to hold active blogger under Official Secrets Act

Nathaniel J. Tan ’03-’04, a secretary for a foundation run by the former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Malaysia, was detained last Friday by Malaysian police officers and is still being held under the country’s Official Secrets Act for violation of the Communication and Multimedia Act, an individual close to the situation requesting anonymity confirmed Monday afternoon.

Tan is the secretary for the Foundation For the Future, a newly-formed, Beirut-based grant-making organization with a mission to support democracy in the Middle East.

The president of the foundation is controversial political figure Anwar Ibrahim, who spent five years in prison on corruption charges and was later convicted of sodomy before the Malaysian Supreme Court overturned the second conviction, prompting his release in September 2004. Both Tan and Ibrahim are members of the People’s Justice Party, which has in the past clashed with Malaysia’s largest political party, the United Malays National Organization.

According to a report from Reuters published Sunday, Tan has remained in custody under the Official Secrets Act for possessing documents regarding Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharom.

The documents in question provide evidence supporting earlier allegations that Johari had accepted bribes on the behalf of criminals, the report said.

But the report also said that Malaysian authorities closed the investigation into bribery accusations earlier last week due to lack of evidence.

According to the source, Tan was picked by police on Friday morning near a Malaysian office where he works. He was put in lockup for approximately six hours, barred from any outside contact before he was actually charged with any crime.

Tan, 27, maintains an active online blog in addition to his work as a secretary. The blogosphere is one of few media-outlets that are not controlled by the government, and rarely have bloggers been arrested or Web sites shut down for publishing content that would be off-limits for print newspapers, the source said.

An unidentified person posted a comment on one of Tan’s blog entries suggesting that Baharom bribed officials to drop the investigation into the original bribery allegations, although Tan had nothing to do with the comment.

At Harvard, Tan lived in Dudley House, where current Dean of Freshman Thomas A. Dingman ’67 served as the Co-op's Allston Burr Senior Tutor.

Dingman told The Crimson Monday that he remembered Tan favorably.

“I can’t believe that he’s out creating trouble for Malaysia,” Dingman said.

Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act prohibits the distribution, possession or collection of any information dubbed as an official secret by any public officer, according to Malaysia Today, a prominent news blog in the country. The act is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The source said that there is a chance Tan will be released from police custody within the next 12-24 hours.

A number of posters to his blog have called for Tan’s release via an online petition, citing improper procedures by police. Supporters also organized a candlelight vigil for Tan on Sunday night.

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.