Bloggers Rally Behind Malaysian Peers Facing Lawsuits Monday, Jan 22 2007 

By Erwin Oliva, INQUIRER.net, 22 Jan 2007

BLOGGERS from different parts of the world have rallied behind two Malaysian bloggers facing defamation suits.

Jeff Ooi and Ahirudin Attan were sued separately on January 4, 2007 by the New Straits Times Press (NTSP) and its top executives, Deputy Chairperson Kalimullah Hassan, Group Editor-in-Chief Hishamuddin Aun and former group editor Brenden Pereira.

A blog, dubbed Walk With Us, was set up recently to support freedom of expression in Malaysia and elsewhere.

“You are the Goliath when you have the luxury to sue bloggers using a corporate organization’s financial resources. We mustn’t allow the mainstream media to wax their financial muscles to muzzle the bloggers. We mustn’t let the newspaper use the Court to define the opinion space in the Internet Age. The power to define the opinion space should be the Internet-empowered populace. They deserve the right to information that defines the country,” the blog said in its “About Us” page.

Nuraina A. Samad, a former New Straits Times editor for 27 years, also wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet in her blog, in reaction to the defamation suits against the two bloggers.

She said that while the individual plaintiffs in the defamation suit had the right to sue the bloggers, involving the newspaper was a “big mistake.”

“I am sure you are aware of this. My concern is not the suit taken by the individuals but by the NST. I will not go into why the NST is suing these two bloggers although I am actually still trying to figure this one out. As far as the individuals (plaintiffs) are concerned, like any citizen of this country, they have the right to seek redress if they feel that their reputation has been hurt or injured by these two bloggers. But for the NST to decide to be dragged into this, I think it is a big mistake,” Samad added.

Last week, the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) issued a statement noting their “concern” over the landmark suit against Malaysian bloggers.

SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said the group, which is also promoting freedom of expression, believes that the defamation suit goes beyond “the interests of private entities.”

“It will impact on Malaysians’ access to diverse and independent news, commentary, and information, and will also adversely affect the Internet as a medium for free expression in a country where much of the mainstream press is owned and influenced by political parties and government itself,” Alampay, said in a statement on January, 19, 2006.

Since 2003, Ooi has been critical of government and public figures on his Screenshots blog.

Ahirudin, on the other hand, was former executive editor of the Malay Mail, a newspaper under the NSTP. He started his own blog, dubbed Rocky’s Bru, after he left the newspaper group, which underwent a financial and structural restructuring in early 2006. He is currently the president of the National Press Club.

In Ooi’s previous posting, he disclosed that there has been an outpouring of support from people, including Blogger and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Manuel Quezon III and CNET Asia blogger and INQUIRER.net editor Joey Alarilla who expressed their individual support.

“I am overwhelmed with phonecalls, SMS, e-mails to both my Gmail and Hushmail accounts, with offers of counsel, moral support, legal representation and even financial assistance. As a somewhat unknown blogger I am touched though I simply can’t find time to reply them all,” he said.

In a recent posting, Ahirudin disclosed that there were also offers for financial help. But he announced that both him and Ooi plan to use the money to create a fund to help other bloggers fighting for freedom of expression and their rights in the court of law.

“Many of you asked me for my bank account no. because you wanted to send money to help finance the fight. We have decided that it will serve bloggers well if we set up a fund not in our names but in the name of blogger solidarity and freedom of expression to defend our rights in the court of law. We should be announcing the formation of the fund this week,” he said.

“Bloggers Unite should also meet up soon to discuss the future of blogging, the new threat that we face, the steps that we will need to take. It’s going to be a long journey but we’ll walk the distance. Walk with us,” he added.

A court injunction was served on January 11, 2006, requiring Ooi to remove 13 alleged defamatory postings. He was also barred from publishing anything more about the plaintiffs. The hearing on the case against Ooi is scheduled on January 30, 2006.

Meanwhile, the court injunction against Ahirudin ordered him to remove at least 48 alleged defamatory postings. A hearing is scheduled on January 25, 2006.

Thaksin Debacle Should Serve As A Lesson For Singapore Monday, Jan 22 2007 

Analysis: Neither country served by Thailand-Singapore spat

Veera Prateepchaikul, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Co Ltd

The fallout from the Thai-Singaporean diplomatic spat has yet to be settled peacefully. The Council for National Security (CNS) now has trained its guns on Shin Corp – more generally on Singapore, because Shin Corp is now controlled by Singapore’s investment arm, Temasek Holdings.

The CNS generals now suspect that their mobile telephones and those of members of the Assets Scrutiny Committee – which is investigating corruption cases against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his cronies – may have been tapped.

They worry that some confidential information, unwittingly let out during their conversations over the cellular phone network, might have been passed on to Singapore.

A sign of paranoia by the generals? Perhaps so.

CNS chairman Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin was reported to have confided to some reporters that he had changed his mobile telephones several times since the Sept 19 coup to prevent illegal eavesdropping.

All CNS generals have reportedly dropped the AIS service in favour of other service providers because they suspected their phones may have been tapped.

Responding to the CNS concern, the Information and Communications Technology Ministry quickly launched a probe and ordered all cell phone operators to report to the ministry. The order was accompanied by an unveiled threat that those who did not cooperate faced having their operating licences revoked.

Obviously, the probe appears to target Advanced Info Service, or AIS, the flagship subsidiary of Shin Corp.

Whether the probe will find a culprit remains to be seen. But the guess is that the ICT Ministry is likely to come up red faced and empty handed.

The CNS may not be happy with Singapore’s mishandling of Mr Thaksin by letting him meet its deputy prime minister, S. Jayakumar, and for allowing him to use the island-state as a platform to bash the government via CNN and the Asian Wall Street Journal. But going after Shin Corp or Singapore for suspected phone tapping with a threat of withdrawing its operating licence may be a bit too much. Such actions could unnecessarily worsen the strained relations between the two countries.

If Singapore was guilty of not being sensitive enough to the feelings of the Thai people and the Thai government about Mr Thaksin, the former prime minister himself was also guilty of putting Singapore in a tight spot as noted by veteran Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani.

A great manipulator of the media, Mr Thaksin must have anticipated the consequences of his interviews.

Then, what’s next? Continuation of the diplomatic row will not serve the interests of either Thailand or Singapore. Mr Thaksin is probably the only person who might have a good laugh.

What the two countries should do is to bury the hatchet, mend fences and move on to improve their relationship.

But, of course, the Thaksin debacle should serve as a lesson for Singapore and the friends of Thailand.

As for Mr Thaksin, he can continue bad-mouthing the CNS and the Surayud government as he wishes while globe-trotting. He is free to speak and no one can stop him.

But if he really wishes to come home and to live a non-political life as an ordinary man, as he told CNN he did, he should for his own sake keep a low profile, be more discreet with his words to the media and avoid all the movements which can be deemed political. Then, perhaps, the CNS and the government will feel a bit more comfortable to let him in.

Mr Thaksin should also realise that Thai people, after all, are always ready to forgive anyone who is prepared to admit their guilt or who is ready to apologise for past mistakes, even though they may not forget the past.

And we have yet to hear a formal apology from Mr Thaksin for the mess that he and his regime left behind for us.

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