EXCERPTS:

Now, the eldest child of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has decided to turn more active and has agreed to become a trustee of a fund to help two Malaysian bloggers being sued by the New Straits Times Press (NSTP).

The move by Datin Paduka Marina is being watched closely, with observers waiting to see the role she will play in the saga, as it follows closely her father’s vocal criticism of the current administration.

‘The space for people to express themselves is small,’ she told The Straits Times.

‘The new administration claims to be more open, but it does not meet people’s expectations because they are trying to touch cyberspace.’

‘What really convinced me to start a blog was seeing comments from people who wanted to restrict comments on the Internet. I felt I must get in right away,’ she said.

SOURCE: Straits Times (Singapore)
URL:
www.straitstimes.com

Jan 31, 2007
Marina Mahathir takes up bloggers’ cause
Activist becomes trustee of fund to help two men sued by NSTP

By Reme Ahmad, Malaysia Bureau Chief

KUALA LUMPUR – DATIN Paduka Marina Mahathir started expressing her frank opinions on her blog 1-1/2 months ago after she heard that officials intended to curb free expression on online journals.

Now, the eldest child of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has decided to turn more active and has agreed to become a trustee of a fund to help two Malaysian bloggers being sued by the New Straits Times Press (NSTP).

The move by Datin Paduka Marina is being watched closely, with observers waiting to see the role she will play in the saga, as it follows closely her father’s vocal criticism of the current administration.

The NSTP versus bloggers case is the first legal action against comments published online, and it is perceived by some as an indirect move by the Abdullah administration to curb attacks on the government carried out over the Internet.

At the weekend, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi hit out at bloggers and websites for spreading ‘lies after lies’ to discredit his government.

The case is also interesting because of the widespread perception that the NSTP is controlled by staunch loyalists of Datuk Seri Abdullah.

Other than the newspaper itself, the plaintiffs named in the suit against the two bloggers include the publication’s deputy chairman Kalimullah Hassan, group editor-in-chief Hishamuddin Aun and former group editor Brendan Pereira.

They are key figures in the newspaper’s leadership since 2004.

NSTP is suing the two bloggers, Messrs Ahirudin Attan and Jeff Ooi, for unspecified damages and has sought an injunction to prevent them from continuing to post objectionable material on their blogs.

Datin Paduka Marina was at the court building yesterday with more than a dozen bloggers and Internet activists in a show of support.

She said the fund to help the bloggers will be ready within a month.

‘The space for people to express themselves is small,’ she told The Straits Times yesterday.

‘The new administration claims to be more open, but it does not meet people’s expectations because they are trying to touch cyberspace.’

The youthful-looking Datin Paduka Marina, 49, is best known in Malaysia for her 17-year-old column in The Star newspaper, Musings, and for her charity work with an Aids foundation.

She has been vociferous in her support for women’s rights and has also expressed her opinions about conservative Muslims.

Datin Paduka Marina started her blog, rantingsbymm.blogspot.com, early last December.

‘What really convinced me to start a blog was seeing comments from people who wanted to restrict comments on the Internet. I felt I must get in right away,’ she said.

Her blog also scored a scoop when she reported on what she saw during a closed-door meeting between her father and billionaire financier George Soros at their meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month.

With her blog and trustee role, observers say she is fast raising her profile and has become a personality to watch this year.

She is expected to be more visible in the days ahead, with the NSTP case set to continue, and amid heated debate on the pros and cons of the defamation suit.

In the latest developments yesterday, the NSTP and Mr Ooi agreed not to publish reports or comments related to the case for the time being.

The case will now be up for mention on March 8, when Mr Ooi will seek to strike out the suit against him by the newspaper group.

A similar agreement was reached between the NSTP and Mr Ahirudin on Monday. His case will come up for mention again on Feb 22.

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