Over the years, I have observed that throughout Asia, bloggers and online media increasingly have been subjected to legal threats and abusive lawsuits.
The region's defamation laws are among the most vigorously enforced. On top of that, there are various offences such as undermining public order and national security, breaching official secrets acts, offending religious harmony and the monarchy, sedition, and so on, which come with the threat of prison or bankruptcy or even capital punishment for those found guilty.
The initiative underscores the importance of empowering bloggers to stand up and fight back against lawsuits that aim to silence them.
- Peter Noolander, MLDI
Amid this landscape, U.K.-based Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) has announced the launch of a major legal defense fund for bloggers and online media in South and Southeast Asia. The initiative is supported by the Digital Defenders Partnership under Hivos International, which is an NGO with initial support from the governments of the Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, and Republic of Estonia. Hivos is based out of the Netherlands.
I spoke with Peter Noolander, chief executive of MLDI, who explained that the initiative underscored the importance of "defending the right of bloggers and others to publish and comment on issues of public interest".
"[It also underscores] the importance of empowering bloggers to stand up and fight back against lawsuits that aim to silence them," Noolander said, adding that bloggers and online media can apply for assistance to help defend legal claims made against them. "We expect many of these to concern issues such as libel or sedition, but the fund is open to assist in the defense of all legal claims made in connection with journalism or blogging on issues of public interest."
There is also an affordability test to help MLDI provide financial assistance only to bloggers and media outlets that truly cannot afford to pay their own legal fees. Applications can be made through the website or by e-mail.
Will this be a game-changer in this region? Perhaps. After all, we have seen instances in the past where bloggers have simply caved in because they could not bear the cost of defending a suit.