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Global Voices blogger Jeff Ooi questioned in Malaysia regarding weblog comments

Global Voices ally and contributor Jeff Ooi was taken in for questioning this morning by Malaysia's Criminal Investigation Division regarding a September 2004 post on his weblog, Screenshots. Jeff was questioned for two hours and released. It's unclear whether the authorities will close the case regarding Jeff's weblog, or whether he may be subject to future questioning and harrasment.

Since 2003, Jeff has been one of Malaysia's most prolific, insightful and, often, controversial bloggers, posting in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese. He's a paradigmatic bridge blogger, explaining politics and everday life in Malaysia for outsiders while weighing in on key debates for a local audience.

The post that led to Jeff's police questioning was posted on September 30th, 2004, titled “Islam Hadhari and Money Politics”. In the post, Jeff asserts that Islam Hadhari – an interpretation of Islam promoted by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi focused on Islam's compatibility with economic and technical development (the term means “civilizational Islam”) – is inconsistent with political bribery. Jeff describes the two forces as “water and oil which do not mix.”

In the first comment on Jeff's post, a commenter who identifies himself only as “Anwar”, responds that “Islam hadari and money politics is just like shit and urine that's how to make comparison.” Jeff responded by deleting the words “shit and urine” and posting the following immediately below the comment:

JEFF OOI: You didn't realise that IF shit and urine come from human beings, they are in actual fact by-products of God's creation that even God can't absolve from. Don't rob Him of this glory as every thing He does, He intends it in His divine way.

I try to be as open-minded as I can, but what you said affects and hurts me because you have twisted and hijacked my blog topic. What you said is also blasphemy as it hurts people who hold dear to their value system. And I am one of them.

He also blocked the IP for “Anwar”, preventing him from posting future comments.

Malaysian newspaper Berita Harian picked up the story on October 2nd, with a cover story that faulted Jeff for failing to control his forum and allowing “opinion that is regarded as ridiculing Islam to be published”. Jeff responds with questions about the journalistic ethics of Berita Harian, most notably their failure to contact him about the story and offer him an opportunity to comment or respond.

According to Jeff, the newspaper story led to an investigator by Malaysia's Internet regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), which filed a report with the Attorney General and closed their investigation.

Jeff was alerted on Friday that a criminal complaint had been filed regarding his blog on February 24th. The complaint was made under section 298(A) of Malaysia's penal code, a section that prohibits causing “disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will” on the basis of religion, and provides for 2-5 year periods of imprisonment for offenders. Jeff discovered this morning that the complaint had been filed by the police themselves, four months after the initial incident.

After two hours of questioning this morning, with his lawyer present, Jeff was released. It is unclear whether this completes the investigation, if Jeff will be questioned again, or if he will be charged. In an email this morning, Jeff told friends around the world “I AM FINE” and asked bloggers to post his version of the statement he gave to police, as well as some relevant questions he has about the arrest. This follows below.

I'm confident that police harrasment won't prevent Jeff from being the outspoken and brave voice he's been since he started blogging two years ago. Friends at Reporters Sans Frontiers, Committee to Protect Bloggers and Global Voices, as well as Jeff's excellent lawyers in Malaysia, are standing at the ready should this case continue any further.



Dear Friends,

Here's an account of my taking of a witness’ statement “in assisting
the police in its investigation” pursuant to a police report lodged on
Feb 24 against me as the blogger for www.jeffooi.com (Screenshots)
under Penal Code 298(A).

Two major issues. The Senior Investiagtion Officer Assistant
Superintendent of Police (ASP) Ratnakumar of the Criminal
Investigation Division (CID) told me that:

( 1 ) The investigation is pursuant to the “October Issue” of a Malay
paper (Berita Harian) which accused me in its Oct 2, 2004 edition of
allowing a reader (named ‘Anwar’) posting on my weblog disparaging
remarks about Islam Hadhari (civilisational Islam) currently promoted
heavily by Malaysia's Prime Minister;

( 2 ) The current investigation is a result of a police report filed
against me on Feb 24 by the POLICE themselevs, purportedly from the
Police HQ at Bukit Aman.

The context:

( 1 ) Why did the police file its own police report to trigger
investigation under Penal Code 298(a)?

( 2 ) Why did the police file its own police report, invoking 298(A)
FOUR months after the incident?

( 3 ) Why did the police initiate the police investigation when the
Internet regulator – the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia
Commission (MCMC) has completed its investigations under the
Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and had submitted the report
to the Attorney-General's chamber and the file closed?

To my Malaysian friends, please share your feedback in confidence.

Here's my version of the police statement I gave under Criminal
Procedure Code Section 112 – verbatim:

Q: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WEBSITE: WHEN YOU STARTED IT AND THE PURPOSE.

A: www.jeffooi.com is a weblog I started in mid 2003 with a brandname
called “Screenshots”. This “Screenshots” weblog was started on Jan 2,
2003 hosted by www.blogspot.com. Blogspot.com is a free hosting
service with many restrictions such as administrative control over
commentators’ remarks. There were frequent service outage incidents.
Because of that, I hosted “Screenshots” on a dedicated server, using
another technology called “MovableType 2.x” starting from mid 2003.

The purpose of “Screenshots” is to provide an archiove of developments
in information technology, international governance, impact of
Internet on economy and society. In the Malaysian context, the same
focus is applied by looking at issues that affect the country with
relation to realising Vision 2020 and the achievement of a
knowledge-based economy as an advanced, industrialised nation.

The blog is aimed at creating a platform for intellectual discussions
and exchanges of information and knowledge. These exchange and
discussions come in the form of interactive feedback, commentaries and
civil conversations. In summary, it is a platform fopr exchanging
knowledge internationally.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BLOG ON “ISLAM HADHARI” IN www.jeffooi.com
AS REPORTED ON OCTOBER 2 OF BERITA HARIAN?

On Oct 2 morning, I was informed by several readers that there was a
frontpage story on Berita Harian, alleging that “Screenshots” has
allowed a commentator to post remarks that ridiculed “Islam Hadhari”.
I was surprised that Berita Harian had published the story without
getting a clarification from me. On my own investigation, I had
discovered that the Berita Harian story was related to a commentary
posted by a reader who used the name “Anwar”. Anwar's comment was
posted onto a blog topic that talked about “Money Politics” in Umno
that was then the hot topic in all Malaysian newspapers after the
September 2003 Umno party elections.

In the blig, I wrote about my concern for Prime Minister Abdullah
Badawi's efforts in fighting corruption. In my blogs since Pak Lah
took over as the PM, I had always voiced my support for his commitment
to fighting corruption and to enhance the country's economic strength.
I have also appealed to my readers to give Pak Lah their support in
this noble cause (fighting corruption). When the media reports were so
sustained in their coverage about the alleged “Money Politics” in
Umno, I gave my context that this must be seen in the proper
perspective. Hence, I wrote that corruption and “Money Politics” and
the universal values of Islam Hadhari are like “oil and water”, they
cannot mix and they are mutually exclusive.

Somehow, reader “Anwar” posted his comment saying that I have made a
wrong analogy. He said, the two elements should instead be likened to
faeces and urine. The date for this commentary should be September 30,
2004.

WHAT DID YOU DO AFTER ANWAR UTTERED THE WORDS?

In the late evening of September 30, I wrote a rebuttal on the same
commentary that Anway posted. I told him that his remarks are
equivalent to blasphemy and I told him that his remarks may hurt the
feelings of people who share the sentiments like me. This comment of
mine still remains in the archive.

At the same time, I wrote a private email to Anwar at his email
address “tongsanchai@hotmail.com”, giving him 24 hours to retract his
statement, failing which I would ban him from commenting in my blog.

The deadline expired at 12.00 midmight October 1, but Anwar did not
respond. I then banned him from my blog and deleted his offensive
statement.

IS THERE A REQUIREMENT TO NOTIFY ANY AGENCY OF SUCH INCIDENT?

On the frontpage of my weblog, I have a caution to readers that the
“freedom of Internet” must be handled with care. Should there be
infringement or violation of the law, I shall cooperate with the
authority in theoir investigation, particularly on issues related to
defamation, libel and sedition. I let the authority like MCMC to do
the policing of Internet inaccordance to CMA 1998.

WHY DIDN'T YOU NOTIFY ANY AGENCY OF SUCH INCIDENT?

I would like to invoke CPC112 Sub-section 2 (meaning I would not want
to say anything that would be used to incriminate me).

ANY AUTHORITY RECORDED ANY STATEMENT FROM YOU?

Yes. The investigator from MCMC has taken a statement on the issue in
October 2004. I gave them my fullest cooperation.

WHO WAS THE INVESTIGATING OFFICER FROM MCMC?

It was Mohd Ashwar Abdul Aziz from the Enforcement Department of the
Monitoring & Enforcement Division of MCMC.

DO YOU KNOW THE READER CALLED ANWAR?

No, I do not know him or her.

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU COMMUNICATED WITH HIM?

I have communicated with him only once, that was through the private
email dated Sept 30, asking him to retract his remarks which I
rebutted.

WAS THERE SIMILAR INCIDENTS LIKE THIS AFTER THIS ISSUE?

No, there wasn't.

WAS THERE SIMILAR INCIDENTS LIKE THIS BEFORE THIS ISSUE?

No, there wasn't.

DO YOU HAVE A CONTRACT WITH THE WEBHOST (INFO NET/WEBVISION)?

Yes.

HAVE YOU GONE THROUGH AND UNDERSTOOD THE CONDITIONS OF THE CONTRACT?

Yes, I have gone through it and regarded it as a standard contract for
webhosting.

DO YOU DISCUSS RELIGIOUS MATTERS IN YOUR BLOG?

I only discussed religious matters that are uttered by politicians but
not religion itself. For example, I am fearful of the “Islamic State
Document” proposed by political party PAS; but I voiced my concurrence
with the 10 guiding pricinples of Islam Hadhari.

ANYTHING TO ADD?

No.

End of police statement.

ASP Ratna asked me to provide the following to him personally, in my
convenience, after which he would issue me a certificate of submission
of evidence:

( 1 ) A printout of the caution to commentators I listed onthe frontpage

( 2 ) A printout of the Sept 30 blog which contains Anwar's comment
and my rebuttal

( 3 ) The private email that I sent to Anwar, asking him to retract his remarks.

Friends (in Malaysia), do you think I could post this police statement
(my record) in my blog for record?

Cheers

Jeff

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