Malaysia keeps up troubling case against blogger and cyberspace

3 March 2005

ALERT UPDATE – MALAYSIA The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) has expressed renewed concern over the continuing investigation of Malaysian blogger Jeff Ooi, saying the case has adverse implications for the Internet and free speech in Malaysia.

SEAPA, citing a report from the Centre for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur, said Ooi was questioned by police for two hours on Monday 28 February in connection with a controversial posting on his ‘Screenshots’ blog on 30 September 2004.

The CIJ said Selangor State CID Chief Senior Assistant Commander II Hadi Ho had confirmed that Ooi was being investigated under Sect 298A of the Penal Code-a legal clause relating to acts fostering ‘religious disunity’, and which carries a penalty of two to five years imprisonment.

CIJ noted, however, that the Malaysian Supreme Court in 1987 had declared this section of the Penal Code unconstitutional.
During the two-hour questioning by Senior Investigating Officer ASP Ratnakumar, Ooi was asked when and why he started blogging. He was also asked about a Malay daily’s frontpage story on 2 October 2004 which accused him of “failing to control the [Screenshots] forum by allowing an opinion ridiculing Islam to be published”.

That story referred to an anonymous posting on Ooi’s weblog that angered readers and officials in Malaysia as blasphemous. Ooi himself, as owner and administrator of the website, took down the posting and barred the anonymous writer (a user who used the name “Anwar”) from future discussions.

All the same, Ooi last year was threatened with detention under the Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial for up to two years, and with prosecution under the Sedition Act. CIJ reports that Ooi has been told that these investigations are continuing.

SEAPA and CIJ view the continuing case as an attempt to harass Ooi and other website owners and operators in Malaysia, and to curtail freedom of expression on the Internet.

“The use of the Sedition Act, the Internal Security Act, and now a dubious, supposedly voided clause of the Penal Code, to intimidate Mr. Ooi in fact lays bare Malaysia’s intent to run around Kuala Lumpur’s own pledge to never censor the Internet,” SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said. SEAPA noted that former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad had vowed to maintain the integrity of cyberspace and to never intervene in the management of its content.

Despite its economic strength, Malaysia remains a politically restrictive society where government maintains a strict hold over the flow of news and information, and over all forms of mass communication. Print and broadcast media are subject to state ownership, licensing rules, and political intolerance for criticism.

SEAPA noted that, for now, the Internet is the most viable medium for independent news and information in Malaysia.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had committed to leaving the Internet space relatively untouched, and the web now thus plays host to a handful of alternative and independent news outlets such as Malaysiakini.com. These new news providers are constantly pushing the boundaries of free expression in Malaysia, testing and exploiting the virtual space that Mahathir had vowed to respect.

“It should be noted that censorship of the Internet was explicitly rejected in the Communications and Multimedia Act 2001,” the CIJ said in a statement.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had committed to leaving the Internet space relatively untouched, and the web now thus plays host to a handful of alternative and independent news outlets such as Malaysiakini.com. These new news providers are constantly pushing the boundaries of free expression in Malaysia, Now SEAPA and the CIJ are concerned that the Malaysian government has found an excuse to influence web content as well. The organizations are concerned that the very suggestion of using the ISA and sedition laws against a webmaster may have a chilling effect on other content providers.

SEAPA joined CIJ in calling for all investigations against Jeff Ooi to be halted, and in urging the Malaysian government to institute legal protection for freedom of expression in the country.

SEAPA joined CIJ in calling for all investigations against Jeff Ooi to be halted, and in urging

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