MALAYSIA: Abdullah hits back at bloggers, websites out to 'rubbish' him

Prime Minister Abdullah says his critics have created stories, exaggerated issues to discredit his government

Straits Times
Monday, January 29, 2007

By Reme Ahmad

Kuala Lumpur --- Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has hit out at bloggers and websites for spreading "lies after lies" to discredit his government.

He says they have exaggerated issues and want to "rubbish" his administration.

"I know there are people who are trying their best to ridicule me. They make a mountain out of a molehill. They just want to rubbish me," the Prime Minister said in an interview with the New Sunday Times, the weekend edition of the mass-selling New Straits Times (NST) newspaper.

Datuk Seri Abdullah did not single anyone out, but his fiercest critic last year was former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who accused him of mismanaging the country and the economy.

Apart from a news conference a few weeks ago in which he attacked PM Abdullah, Tun Dr Mahathir has remained silent since suffering a mild heart attack in November.

When asked why a particular group in cyberspace was trying to discredit him, Datuk Seri Abdullah replied in the interview that they were people "captivated" by electronic media, including SMS.

"They feel they are free, they cannot be disturbed and they can say whatever they wish to say. They do it (post comments) anonymously," he said.

He added: "This sort of freedom has made them resort to such action (of spreading lies and making unfounded allegations)."

The bloggers and those who operate websites have also created stories to attack his administration, the premier said.

"Lies after lies are being told. To them, everything is not right, everything is not good."

The premier's criticism coincides with the first legal suit filed against bloggers in Malaysia.

The New Straits Times Press (NSTP), publisher of the NST daily, is suing bloggers Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi for unspecified damages and is seeking an injunction to prevent them from continuing to post objectionable material.

The publishing company contends that 48 postings by Mr Ahirudin and 13 by Mr Ooi defamed its deputy chairman, Datuk Kalimullah Hassan, group editor-in-chief Hishamuddin Aun, and former group editor Brendan Pereira.

Some of the issues brought up by bloggers and news portals had also caused frustration within government circles, with the prime minister himself coming out to deny them.

Last month, PM Abdullah denied that he had bought a RM30million (S$13million) yacht after reports surfaced on the Internet saying that he had gone to Turkey to view the vessel.

Last week, he denied reports -- again on the Internet -- that the government was using unknown companies to raise US$50billion (S$76.8billion) in project loans.

In the past few days, the buzz on Malaysian websites has been whether the government has ordered a new US$50million luxury jet for use by top officials. Officials have yet to confirm or deny the claims.

Datuk Seri Abdullah had earlier backed NSTP's right to sue the bloggers, saying that they were not above the law and that their owners had to be responsible for content on their sites.

During the interview with NST in the Swiss city of Davos, where he attended the World Economic Forum, Datuk Seri Abdullah said he would not be deterred by distractions coming out of cyberspace.

"If I allow myself to be distracted by all this, I will not be able to do any work. That is what they want, that I not focus on my work," he said.