MALAYSIA: Malaysian media targets outspoken bloggers in lawsuit
Southeast Asia Press Alliance and Reporters Without Borders express concern about defamation suit filed against bloggers
Monday, January 22, 2007
Kuala Lumpur --- A defamation lawsuit against two Malaysian bloggers by a pro-government daily has alarmed media watchdogs who say it is a landmark assault on Internet free expression.
The move by the English-language New Straits Times Press (NSTP) is the first time bloggers have been taken to court for comments on the Internet in Malaysia, which controls media tightly.
The Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) said it viewed the suit against the two well-known bloggers -- Jeff Ooi who writes the "Screenshots" blog and Ahirudin Attan of "Rocky's Bru" -- with deep concern.
"It will impact on Malaysians' access to diverse and independent news, commentary, and information, and will also adversely affect the Internet as a medium for free expression in a country where much of the mainstream press is owned and influenced by political parties and government itself," it said.
Reporters Without Borders, an international media watchdog that lists Malaysia in 92nd place out of 168 nations on its worldwide press freedom index, urged New Straits Times CEO Syed Faisal Albar to intervene.
"You will surely accept that, even if they do not share your opinions, the disappearance of the blogs produced by these two outspoken bloggers, Ooi and Ahiruddin, would be a loss to the Malaysian media world," it said.
"We believe that this case is groundless," it said, adding that "it looks to us as though legal procedures are being used as a way of silencing two of your newspaper's critics."
Ooi has been blogging critically about the government since 2003, and won the Reporters Without Borders Blog Award for Asia shortly after.
Ahirudin was the executive editor of the Malay Mail, a newspaper under the NSTP, who started "Rocky's Bru" after leaving the news group last year.
SEAPA said that while the plaintiffs -- the NSTP and three senior figures in the group -- have the right to seek redress against any harm to their reputation, "their suit against the bloggers attacks the burgeoning movement of independent writing itself."
The New Straits Times confirmed in an article on Friday that the legal action was filed and that it was in relation to certain articles and posts that had been published.
Ooi said on Saturday he was working with his lawyers but declined to comment on his case, which will be heard on Jan. 30. Ahirudin, whose case goes to court on Thursday, could not be reached for comment.
Malaysia's parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang warned that the suit would have a "chilling effect" on the freedom of bloggers.
"As these are the first two cases of Malaysian bloggers being sued for defamation, it will have far-reaching consequences for the healthy, mature and democratic growth for free speech and expression," he said.
Rights group Aliran said it was disturbed by the repercussions the suit might have on Malaysian blogging circles, which have become an important outlet for alternative views.
"Bloggers may feel pressured to exercise more self-censorship and caution, and this might deter them from exposing abuse of power and corruption at the highest levels," it said.
Date Posted: 1/22/2007