Charter 2000-Aliran is deeply disturbed by recent developments that could restrict the space for freedom of expression over the Internet and curb the democratic right of bloggers to air their opinions. It is especially worrying because the Internet is one of the few avenues left for concerned Malaysians to freely express views and gain access to information that is normally not carried in the mainstream media.
The arrest of blogger Nathaniel Tan a few weeks ago and, more recently, the police interrogation of 'Malaysia Today' webmaster Raja Petra Kamaruddin reinforce the suspicion that the government is intent on striking fear among Internet users, especially bloggers. It appears to be resorting to overt means of political intimidation to create a culture of self-censorship within the blogging community.
Some of these bloggers have provided incisive political analyses and practised a degree of investigative journalism. Their critical commentaries have obviously irked the powers-that-be, who may have found them too revealing for their comfort especially with a general election drawing closer.
The authorities' actions are not only a step backwards for media freedom but also a climbdown from the official guarantee not to censor the Internet. This pledge was firmly expressed by the Barisan Nasional government when it was trying to draw foreign investors into the Multimedia Super Corridor.
De facto law minister Mohd Nazri Aziz has now issued a chilling threat that the government will not hesitate to use the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act on bloggers for postings that are supposedly 'sensitive' and 'insulting to Islam and the King'. This sort of intimidation reflects an inability or unwillingness to appreciate the democratic spirit that is inbuilt in civilised debates and discussions.
Strong-arm tactics and warnings such as these will shut the door to meaningful interaction and dialogue and deprive the government of a golden opportunity to gauge public response to official policies and their implementation.
To say that only the country's top leaders are allowed to articulate their views on certain issues as was the case with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak's unilateral pronouncement that Malaysia is an Islamic state - and that no one else should comment on them reflects a poor understanding of what constitutes a democracy.
Not only is such a stance undemocratic, it also indirectly spawns grievances and dissatisfaction among citizens, who will find themselves unable to articulate their views in public. And we are all too aware of and concerned about - the possible consequences of suppressing and bottling up collective grievances.
The writers are coordinators, Charter 2000-Aliran.