updated 12/1/2008 10:15:52 AM ET 2008-12-01T15:15:52

Send good karma, post a photo, criticize the prime minister — all things you can do with the click of a mouse at Facebook, right?

In Croatia, the last one might be a click too far. A man who launched a Facebook group critical of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has been detained and questioned by police.

Some in the country are crying foul, sensing a move to quash cyber-debate.

Political analyst Jelena Lovric called the detention a "notorious abuse of police for political purposes." And the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Zoran Milanovic, said Monday the police action endangered freedom of expression.

The kerfuffle in the Balkan country, which was once part of Yugoslavia, had its origins several months ago when Niksa Klecak, 22, set up an anti-Sanader group on Facebook, the social networking Web site. The name of the group was, "I bet I can find 5,000 people who dislike Sanader."

Last Friday, though, the hammer fell. Police questioned Klecak for three hours and searched his home and computer.

Krunoslav Borovec, a senior national police official, rejected criticism of the detention. Police acted legally, he said, because Klecak's group displayed a photo montage of Sanader in a Nazi uniform. Nazi symbols are banned under Croatian law.

But Klecak, who is a member of the Social Democrats' youth branch, said he was convinced that his was a "politically motivated case."

Lovric, the political analyst, said the case exposed officials' fear of the Web. The government "cannot influence Internet, and that deeply frightens it," Lovric said.

Traditional Croatian news organizations are relatively free, although they do face pressure from political or business interests. But opposition against Sanader is boiling on Web sites — and it has exploded since the police action against Klecak.

The government may find quashing debate on the Web a bit difficult. New anti-government Facebook sites are popping up like animals in the Whack-A-Mole arcade game.

One, calling for a protest against Sanader later this month, has gathered 80,000 members. Klecak's group has grown to 6,200 members since Friday — exceeding his original goal of 5,000. And another Facebook group, called "Search my flat, you Gestapo gang, Croatia is not a police state," surfaced over the weekend and already has about 2,600 members.

Still, the online activists may find that cyber-protests don't necessarily translate into real ones. It's easier to click a mouse than to take to the streets.

In Egypt earlier this year, a Facebook group called for a general strike on President Hosni Mubarak's 80th birthday. The group had 60,000 cyber-members, but the protest was a bust.

And real-life detention and questioning can certainly make a point. Damir Kajin, another opposition politician, said the police action "was a message to those who found a new way of political fighting on the Internet."

Sanader has not commented the case, either in person or online.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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