Reporters Without Borders has condemned a bid to intimidate a blogger after the minister of internal security threatened to imprison Jeff Ooi, who runs the weblog Screenshots (www.jeffooi.com) at the beginning of October 2004.
Ooi is accused of allowing an Internet-user to post a message insulting Islam Hadhari, a religious practice promoted by the government.
The international press freedom organisation called on Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to see that no legal action was taken against Ooi. "A blogger cannot be responsible for a message posted by an anonymous contributor," it said. "The statement by the internal security minister is serious because it will force those running weblogs to use excessive censorship."
Jeff Ooi on 30 September 2004 posted an article on Screenshots discussing the contradiction between the values of Islam Hadhari and the corruption of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). A contentious comment was posted a few hours later by someone calling himself Anwar. It said, "Islam Hadhari and corruption are like shit and urine". Ooi reacted quickly to this statement and replied online, "What you said affects and hurts me because you have twisted and hijacked my blog topic."
To date, the person who posted the comment has not been identified. In fact on most weblogs contributors can post responses to an article without going through whoever runs the publication.
A few days later the internal security minister told the press that Jeff Ooi "must stop playing with fire or we will use the ISA". The Internal Security Act is a law that allows imprisonment without trial for two years for reasons such as harming state security.
The row has been stoked up by pro-government newspapers, in particular the daily Berita Harian, which strongly criticised the blogger.
Jeff Ooi told Reporters Without Borders that he had "never wanted to insult Islam" and that "the pro-government media have presented this case in a completely biased way". I simply wanted "to condemn corruption and in that I am singing the same tune as the prime minister himself," he added.
The Malaysian authorities have previously acted against online publications. The webmaster and journalist of Malaysiakini, Hishamuddin Rais, was arrested on 10 April 2001 under the ISA and was only released two years later.