Charter 2000-Aliran is deeply concerned by the recent defamation suit brought out by the New Straits Times Press against bloggers Jeff Ooi of "Screenshots" fame and Ahirudin Attan ("Rocky's Bru") for their allegedly defamatory postings.
Although we don't intend to go into details of the case as it might be interpreted as being sub judice, we are disturbed by the repercussions the suit might have on blogging circles in the country. 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.
This suit is also politically significant for advocates of freedom of expression especially since the space available for democratic discourse on the Internet is far wider than the shrinking space available to the mainstream media. The mainstream media rarely expose major scandals or display investigative journalism. This uncritical and unquestioning approach was especially evident in their reporting of the case of the murdered Mongolian woman.
Given this political context, a legal suit – especially if it involves a claim of damages that runs into the millions – may open the floodgates to other attempts to muzzle bloggers and webmasters using legal means.
In the name of accountability, transparency and good governance, we call upon the government to institute reforms that strengthen democratic institutions and protect the right to free expression in the media, including the Internet.
Dr Mustafa Kamal Anuar & Anil Netto
19 January 2007