Another blogger quizzed by police

[Original title: A new Malaysian blogger targeted for policing]

Threat-Alert- Malaysia: The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a leading advocate for free expression in Southeast Asia, expresses grave concern over a perceived trend of official harassment being waged against Malaysian bloggers.

Citing news reports that yet another blogger was “cordially” quizzed by Malaysian police recently, SEAPA said Kuala Lumpur’s policing of the Internet is reaching a critical stage that needs to be recognized and confronted by rights and media advocates.

According to reports filed by Malaysia’s only independent online news provider, “Malaysiakini.com”, Mack Zulkifli, a blogger for a new weblog called brandmalaysia, was visited by a four-member team in his house in Subang Jaya on 14 March.

Two police officers and two unidentified government officials asked the writer to help them “understand the latest development of weblogs”, Zulkifli said.

The blogger then spent the next three hours answering questions about blogs and how  its contents can be controlled. He said he was also asked about his motivations for maintaining his site when he appeared to derive no income from it.

The site that Zulkifli run is non-political and non-religious weblog that receives about 2,000 to 3,000 hits a day.

SEAPA said this incident was but the latest in a string of developments suggesting that Malaysia is backing down from earlier commitments to keep state hands off Internet content.

On 28 February, another blogger, Jeff Ooi was questioned by police over an allegedly blasphemous comment posted on his Screenshots website by an anonymous user. Ooi was threatened under Section 298A of the Penal Code—which prohibits actions or conduct that could cause disharmony in society—despite the fact that he immediately took down the offensive comment and banned the user from posting again.

On 14 March 2005, a student of the Science University of Malaysia, Ali Bukhari Amir was summoned for a third investigation by the university investigative committee. In a one-hour session, the university committee questioned Ali over his personal weblog, his involvement with the Federal Public Students Movement (GARAP) and over two cheques he received for his articles. One cheque came from local NGO Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and the other from Malay-language daily Utusan Malaysia.

“Malaysiakini” reported on 16 March that during the session, Ali was urged by the university authorities to use his writing talent to support the Malaysian government instead.

Ali was first grilled by the committee in December 2004 over articles he wrote for other publications. The investigation expanded into his personal website and his involvement in forming the writers’ association.

The latest move against Ali prompted a protest from a local free expression advocate, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), saying any punitive action against Ali over his website is tantamount to Internet censorship which contravenes the Bill of Guarantees set to protect Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor project.

In a bid to position Malaysia as an info-tech and e-commerce power and center in Southeast Asia, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad had pledged to never censor the Internet. In a country where print and broadcast mass media have long been under the thumb of the state and the ruling political parties, that left cyberspace as the most promising medium for independent, free-flowing news and information.

“The recent developments in Malaysia, however, now suggest that this is one promise the Malaysian government is finding hard to keep,” SEAPA said in a statement.

“Bloggers and independent online news sites like Malaysiakini have been testing the government’s sincerity and pushing the edge of what they can freely report and say over the Internet. Now the Malaysian authorities appear to be pushing back, and looking to make examples of bloggers for starters.”