Protect public’s right to free speech
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemns calls for the Internal Security Act to be used against webmasters, in the wake of criticisms of a post on a local weblog.
CIJ is disturbed by the public and government’s willingness to use the laws against those who are trying provide a forum for public discussion.
This is in response to the coverage by Berita Harian of a particular discussion on Screenshots, owned by Jeff Ooi. The newspaper’s coverage clearly failed to meet the ethical standards as espoused by the Malaysian Press Institute’s Code of Ethics.
The ISA allows for detention without trial for up to two years, with a 60-day ‘investigation period’. Many former detainees have claimed that they were tortured during this initial period. Threatening to use this against webmasters serves to create a climate of fear and self-censorship on the Internet.
This will also encourage webmasters to host sites anonymously and outside of the country, discouraging open and accountable ownership of websites.
It should be noted that censorship of the Internet was explicitly rejected in the Communications and Multimedia Act 2001 which states in clause three that nothing in the Act may be interpreted as censoring the Internet.
If Malaysia is serious about its vaunted ambition to be at the forefront of the Information Age, then the government has to stop harassing webmasters and using detention without trial to resolve any perceived problem that is conveniently swept under ‘national security’.
Apart from damaging Malaysia’s image internationally, slapping the ISA on webmasters discourages the free flow of information on Malaysian Internet sites, which are operating in an already restrictive broader environment.
The Centre for Independent Journalism was set up by journalists and is engaged in training, advocacy and practical media projects.