The threats and intimidation of bloggers have been ongoing, but the latest warning against bloggers reported on 25 July is the strongest to date. The de-facto Law Minister, Nazri Aziz threatened to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) which means detention without trial against bloggers, in addition to the Sedition Act.
The warning comes closely after a string of events. On 23 July, UMNO lodged a police report against the owner of the blog Malaysia Today, Raja Petra Kamarudin, charging the latter as insulting the King, over comment posted by others in his blog. Malaysia Today often carries stories about the internal issues of UMNO politics, corruption by the higher echelons of police and the alleged interference of the Prime Minister’s son in-law, Khairy Jamaludin in the country’s administration.
On July 13 police nabbed blogger and National Justice Party (PKR) staff Nathaniel Tan and held him for four days under the widely criticized Official Secrets Act. Nathaniel was accused of possessing documents alleging the deputy minister of Internal Security, Johari Baharum of corruption, but the said document is again an anonymous comment posted on his blog and a link to a website accusing Johari. Nathaniel was subsequently released without a charge.
Three days earlier, the youth wing of the ruling party, UMNO filed a complaint against blogger Tian Chua, also the Information Chief of PKR. He was investigated under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) following the publication of a photomontage dubbed “dinner-for-three”. The picture is a response to the ongoing trial of a Mongolian national who was murdered last year. One of the accused in the trial, Abdul Razak Baginda is a close aide of deputy prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak. The picture depicts the DPM, the Mongolian murder victim lookalike, and Abdul Razak Baginda at a dinner.
In June, Malaysiakini.com was also sued by the Sarawak state chief minister Taib Mahmud. The online daily published a story implicating Taib Mahmud and his family members as the recipient of RM32 million (USD9 million) in kickbacks in return for timber export concessions.
These vocal blogs and websites stick out like sore thumbs against the context of the government inaction against corruption. They break the legislative barriers of information, such as the Printing Presses and Publication Acts, imposed by the government on print media and the CMA that regulates TV and radio stations. Over the years, government officials have been increasingly wary of the growing influence of blogs. It is claimed that the blogs of Jeff Ooi, Ahirudin Atan and Raja Petra each enjoy a readership of over a million while for Malaysiakini.com the figure is three million pageview per-month. The Ministry of Internal Security issued directives twice to mainstream print media not to quote from online sources, while in June the government announced it will set up a taskforce to, among others, study ways to circumvent the Multimedia Bill of Guarantee, which hitherto limits the government from censoring the Internet.
It is apparent from the various cries and whines by government officials, ranging from members of parliament, senators to ministers, deputy ministers and senior leaders of UMNO calling for Internet to be censored, that they are only concerned about the perceived damage upon government leaders because of the online content. The Prime Minister himself has stated that bloggers and online writers “misuse their freedom” and have used the web space to slander him.
The vigilante mentality against the media and individual expressions also comes at a time when talk of a general elections is gaining momentum. The Malaysian mainstream media is known for its lopsided and biased reporting in favour of the ruling coalition during elections, and the clampdown against bloggers, and even the mainstream media for opposition coverage, is indicative of the government’s control over critical information.
Using the preservation of public order and security as an excuse, the government embarks on high-handed actions against the above bloggers and websites, but instead of chasing after the anonymous commentators, it acts against the writers who dared to put their names on what they write and who try hard not to fit into the government’s labeling. For Malaysiakini.com, Taib Mahmud’s defamation suit sends the chill across the local media industry.
It seems that the government, failing to control the free-flow of information in the cyber space as it does in traditional media, is resorting to intimidation tactics, particularly on opposition views and allegations of corruption.
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