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Govt’s admission to internet censorship ‘remarkable’

 | July 22, 2015

It is also “remarkable”, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “both for its unapologetic execution and for its blatant political character.”


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has finally openly admitted to censoring the internet, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) reports.

In doing so, Prime Minister Najib Razak has officially jettisoned promises which his predecessor Dr Mahathir Mohamed made when launching the Multimedia Super Corridor in 1996, and which he repeated barely four years ago.

“I have no doubts whatsoever that Malaysia has one of the liveliest blogospheres in the world,” Najib reportedly told the ASEAN Regional Bloggers Conference in 2011, “and definitely one of the freest if not the most free.

“[Dr. Mahathir] made the promise to the world that Malaysia would never censor the Internet. My government is fully committed to that wisdom. We intend to keep his word.”

That promise did not survive the now ubiquitous Wall Street Journal (WSJ) allegations that US$700 million in funds were transferred into his personal bank account.

On July 19, 2015 the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced that it had blocked whistle-blower website Sarawak Report (www.sarawakreport.org) purportedly on the grounds that it published “unverified information” and posed a threat to “national security”, although curiously the site can still be accessed via mobile phones, virtual private network (VPN) and through alternative and mirror sites.

The fact that the government has officially acknowledged blocking a political website is itself significant, but “it is particularly notable because the case strikes at the heart of (allegations of) political corruption within the country,” EFF says.

It is also “remarkable”, the report adds, “both for its unapologetic execution and for its blatant political character.”

Yet, it suggests that this may not be the first time Malaysia has censored the internet.

EFF claims that “strong evidence emerged” during the 2013 general election of “Malaysian ISPs throttling access to alternative news portals and pro-opposition content on YouTube,” allegations which the MCMC, when confronted, duly denied and blamed on congestion.

Last year, a BBC report on how Najib had been pilloried on the internet and via social media for challenging claims of a higher cost of living by reference to the price of “kangkung” (water spinach) brought about calls by government ministers for censorship of the internet. Officials denied blocking the “offensive” content but users claimed to have experienced difficulty in accessing the particular report.

The blockage placed on Sarawak Report, however, saw the government break new ground by openly admitting to censorship.

The MCMC claims that the block was carried out under the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998, but EFF argues otherwise.

It says that while sections 211 and 233 of the Act prohibit the provision of “content which is indecent, obscene, false, menacing, or offensive” as well as the “improper use of network facilities or network service,” they do not provide for blocking or taking down websites.

The ban reflects badly on the authorities, but both Sarawak Report and the Malaysian public appear well-versed in the various mechanisms to get around the problem – the easiest one being by accessing the portal via a smartphone!


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