27 July, 2007

Reporters Without Border slams Malaysia over threat to bloggers

An international media watchdog Thursday accused Malaysian authorities of trying to intimidate bloggers after a minister threatened to use harsh laws to control what they post.

Nazri Aziz, minister in the prime minister’s department, had warned that bloggers who offend could be charged under a harsh law which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

“It is outrageous to see a minister threatening to jail bloggers who have managed to create an unprecedented space for free expression in Malaysia,” Paris-based Reporters Without Border (Reporters Sans Frontieres, RSF) said in a statement.

“Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government is the target of mounting criticism and its response seems to be repression,” the press freedom organization said.

Nazri’s threat came after a senior politician from the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) lodged a police report earlier this week against a political website, Malaysia Today.

UMNO information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib alleged that postings on the blog insulted Malaysia’s king and Islam, and contained elements that could cause racial tension.

Website editor Raja Petra Kamarudin said he was questioned by police for eight hours on Wednesday.

In a brief article written after his release, he said “the police are not looking at any of my articles but are focusing on the comments in the blogs.”

“The bottom line is, what you post in the comments section may get me sent to jail under the Sedition Act,” Raja Petra said.

The minister had said bloggers who insult the king and incite racism could be charged under three laws, including the Sedition Act and the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without trial.

“Citing the need to combat attempts to incite racial hatred or insult the king, the internal security ministry is trying to intimidate dissidents, especially dissident blog­gers,” RSF said.

The organization also highlighted other prominent cases against bloggers and called on authorities to drop charges against them.

Nathaniel Tan, an aide to former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, was detained by police for four days over an anonymous posting on his blog referring to corruption allegations against a minister.

Malaysia was placed 92 out of 168 countries according to respect for press freedom in the latest RSF ranking of nations.
--AFP


Reporters without Border - Government goes to war against bloggers using arrests and interrogation

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a recent wave of online censorship and harassment of outspoken bloggers as Malaysia approaches its national holiday on 31 August and gears up for early elections at the start of next year.

“Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government is the target of mounting criticism and its response seems to be repression,” the press freedom organisation said. “Citing the need to combat attempts to incite racial hatred or insult the king, the internal security ministry is trying to intimidate dissidents, especially dissident bloggers.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “It is outrageous to see a minister threatening to jail bloggers who have managed to create an unprecedented space for free expression in Malaysia. We call for charges to be dropped against bloggers Raja Petra Kamarudin, Nathaniel Tan, Ahiruddin Attan and Jeff Ooi. At the same time, the national press must be allowed real editorial independence.”

Malaysia was placed 92nd out of 168 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders ranking of nations according to respect for press freedom.

Nazri Abdul Aziz, who holds the position of minister in the Prime Minister’s Department with responsibility for justice, said yesterday that the government would not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act against bloggers who tackle sensitive issues. Under the ISA, someone who is deemed to have threatened state security can be held without trial for two years. Aziz added that the government had until now been “very patient.”

Science and technology minister Kong Cho Ha warned last December that the government planned to introduce regulations designed to prevent “ill-intentioned” use of the Internet and the posting of information by bloggers that harmed Malaysia’s “social harmony.”

Political commentator and blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (also known as RPK) was interrogated for eight hours today by police about articles he recently posted online, including one entitled “See you in hell Muhamad son of Muhamad.” He was also asked about the identity of people who had posted comments about his articles. The summons for questioning was the result of a complaint brought against him on 23 July by the ruling United Malays National Organisation.

Kamarudin, who edits the independent website Malaysia Today, posted an article on 11 July that is deemed to be an insult to the king and incitement to racial hatred. He claims to be read by more than 300,000 people a day and is known for criticising Prime Minister Badawi and other politicians. He faces a possible three-year prison sentence.

Blogger Nathaniel Tan, a member of the opposition Justice Party (PKR), was released on 17 July after being held for four days. Local sources said he was detained because his blog contained a link to a website with information about a corruption case involving internal security minister Johari Bharum. The information was deemed to be a violation of the Official Secrets Act.

Last January, the management and former editors of the New Straits Times daily sued two outspoken bloggers, Jeff Ooi and Ahiruddin Attan, over articles they had posted which argued, with the help of detailed examples, that some of its reports and editorials lacked objectivity.



Read also : Gov’t striking fear among bloggers

Charter 2000-Aliran is deeply disturbed by recent developments that could restrict the space for freedom of expression over the Internet and curb the democratic right of bloggers to air their opinions. It is especially worrying because the Internet is one of the few avenues left for concerned Malaysians to freely express views and gain access to information that is normally not carried in the mainstream media.

The arrest of blogger Nathaniel Tan a few weeks ago and, more recently, the police interrogation of ‘Malaysia Today’ webmaster Raja Petra Kamaruddin reinforce the suspicion that the government is intent on striking fear among Internet users, especially bloggers. It appears to be resorting to overt means of political intimidation to create a culture of self-censorship within the blogging community.

Some of these bloggers have provided incisive political analyses and practised a degree of investigative journalism. Their critical commentaries have obviously irked the powers-that-be, who may have found them too revealing for their comfort – especially with a general election drawing closer.

The authorities’ actions are not only a step backwards for media freedom but also a climbdown from the official guarantee not to censor the Internet. This pledge was firmly expressed by the Barisan Nasional government when it was trying to draw foreign investors into the Multimedia Super Corridor.

De facto law minister Mohd Nazri Aziz has now issued a chilling threat that the government will not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act on bloggers for postings that are supposedly ‘sensitive’ and ‘insulting to Islam and the King’. This sort of intimidation reflects an inability or unwillingness to appreciate the democratic spirit that is inbuilt in civilised debates and discussions.

Strong-arm tactics and warnings such as these will shut the door to meaningful interaction and dialogue and deprive the government of a golden opportunity to gauge public response to official policies and their implementation.

To say that only the country’s top leaders are allowed to articulate their views on certain issues – as was the case with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak’s unilateral pronouncement that Malaysia is an Islamic state - and that no one else should comment on them reflects a poor understanding of what constitutes a democracy.

Not only is such a stance undemocratic, it also indirectly spawns grievances and dissatisfaction among citizens, who will find themselves unable to articulate their views in public. And we are all too aware of – and concerned about - the possible consequences of suppressing and bottling up collective grievances.

Dr Mustafa K Anuar and Anil Netto (via Malaysiakini)

(The writers are coordinators, Charter 2000-Aliran.)

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