Malaysia in Fresh Warnings to Bloggers

KUALA LUMPUR ~ Malaysian officials have stepped up their warnings against bloggers, reports said this week, as a key ruling party member described cyberspace as having “the law of the jungle.”

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, quoted by The Star’s online edition, said bloggers were as liable for defamation as publishers of printed materials.

“It is wrong for bloggers to go overboard, especially if they post slanderous articles against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the country’s king) and Islam on the website,” he was quoted as telling reporters.

“This is not something one can take lightly,” Abdullah added.

His comments were the latest official warning to bloggers since a senior politician from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) lodged a police report last week against a political website, Malaysia Today.

UMNO information chief Muhammad Muhammad Taib alleged that postings on the blog insulted Islam and the king and contained elements that could cause racial tension.

The influential UMNO Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin was quoted as saying bloggers must realize they were not above the law.

Khairy said blogs had reached a point where “it looked like there are no laws in cyberspace except the laws of the jungle.”

Quoted in The Star’s online edition, he said the party had no intention of asking the government to censor the internet but wanted legal action taken against bloggers who spread lies and slander.

Separately, the information minister said that some political bloggers were a danger to the nation.

“They support foreign elements bent on destroying our beloved country,” the state Bernama news agency quoted Zainuddin Maidin as saying.

He said the bloggers did not think like Asians and were pro-West.

“Since the beginning (independence) until now, we have had such dangerous people who have no qualms about becoming the tools of foreign nations to damage our country, including the economy and national unity,” he said.

Last week an international media watchdog accused Malaysian authorities of trying to intimidate bloggers after a minister threatened to use harsh laws to control what they post.

Paris-based Reporters without Borders said bloggers had managed “to create an unprecedented space for free expression in Malaysia,” a country whose media is largely state-linked, and that the government response “seems to be repression.”

Nazri Aziz, minister in the prime minister’s department, had warned that bloggers who offend could be charged under a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial.

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