The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is greatly alarmed that certain Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have restricted access to online news outlet The Malaysian Insider since today. The outlet is the second news provider to be blocked this year following regional news site Asia Sentinel in January. This is clearly an assault on media freedom, freedom of information and Malaysia’s promise for a free Internet.
In January the government also blocked access to blog hosting site, Medium, as reported by local media. This is apparently due to one article published by Sarawak Report, although Medium’s lawyers have been reported as saying the government has not responded to their requests for further information. The government alleges the article to be false, unsubstantiated and misleading and has since denied access to Medium and its diverse body of content in entirety.
For the average Internet user in Malaysia this also means having less space for expression and exchange. It is akin to blocking the whole of YouTube because of one video that offends the government, or all of Facebook because of a single post the government deems “problematic”. Such desperate and over-reaching measures have only been taken by a handful of governments, including Pakistan, Russia and China.
CIJ also objects to the blocking of socio-political blogs OutSyed The Box, Din Turtle and Minaq Jingo Fotopages since January this year. The government’s recent actions appear to be part of a concerted and intensified effort to shut down dissenting views, particularly those questioning the integrity and leadership of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
We are troubled the government has not issued any explanation on its recent actions. There seems to be no transparency in the government’s processes, providing no specific information on laws contravened or even the possibility of appeal. Instead of promoting open and competitive digital spaces, the government seems determined to restrict the growth of innovation and expression for narrow political interests. With this, Malaysia joins the ranks of governments that are wilfully preventing their citizens from enjoying the full benefits of the Internet.
We call on the government and the Prime Minister to address the concerns raised in these blog posts, provide access to relevant information and refrain from censorship. Rather than engaging in censorship and narrowing spaces for democratic debate, the government should intensify efforts to openly address the matters raised. The Internet is central to Malaysia’s democracy and should be used to promote transparency and accountability, including by the government.
We ask that Internet users in Malaysia be vigilant of further restrictions online as it can impact access to vital information and possibly even lead to an increase in the cost of accessing information and technology. Restrictions will also affect our right and ability to engage and interact as communities whether as students, professionals, families, technology communities, indigenous communities and journalists, among others.
Finally, we call on the public to urge the government to refrain from introducing any new policies or revise existing laws concerning the Internet until the current restrictions are overturned and inclusive multi-stakeholder consultations are held. This includes any amendment to the Communications and Multimedia Act (1998) reportedly to be tabled next month. Until this happens, Internet users in Malaysia can expect the walls to close in further on freedom of expression and information as the country heads toward the 14th General Election.