Jeff Ooi questioned in Malaysia

cross-posted to Global Voices

Update: Here’s a briefing from Reporters Sans Frontiers on background on the Jeff Ooi “Islam Hadhari” controversy.

Global Voices ally and contributor Jeff Ooi was taken in for questioning this morning by Malaysia’s Criminal Investigation Division regarding a Septmeber 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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