Last Updated: Sunday, 23 October 2016, 06:57 GMT

Malaysia: Attacks on free speech ahead of elections

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 2 May 2013
Cite as Article 19, Malaysia: Attacks on free speech ahead of elections, 2 May 2013, available at: [accessed 23 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that attempts are being made to silence media outlets and politicians ahead of a general election in the country this coming Sunday, 5 May 2013. ARTICLE 19 has received multiple reports of radio jamming and cyber attacks on websites as well as threats made against opposition politicians. These attempts to silence public debate are widely believed to come from members of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Malaysian government to ensure that international standards on freedom of expression are protected during the country's 13th general election.

The websites of independent radio stations - Radio Free Malaysia and Radio Free Sarawak - are among those that have been under Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, preventing online users from accessing and downloading broadcasts, as well as disrupting their servers. The radio broadcasts to these outlets have also been jammed on numerous occasions. The websites of Free Malaysia Today and Malaysian Insider, both media outlets; SUARAM, a human rights organisation; and Sarawak Report, an anti-corruption site, have also been attacked.

"The attacks on news outlets ahead of the election is a serious threat to freedom of expression and denies the Malaysian people critical information necessary to make informed decisions about their votes, the outcome of which will have a great impact on their lives," said Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19's Executive Director.

"The Malaysian government must ensure that the elections are free and fair. The right to freedom of expression, enshrined in international law - protects the ability of people to speak freely, and to impart and receive information. Those who seek to silence and censor stand in violation of this fundamental human right and the authorities must take action to ensure that the voices of the people are heard - and that includes voices expressing criticism of the outgoing government " she added.

ARTICLE 19 notes that those who have voiced views of opposition to the outgoing government have been barred from accessing publicly funded media networks and government-licensed newspapers and broadcasters. The leading oppositional party, the People's Justice Party (PKR) was offered just 10 minutes airtime on the state controlled Radio Television Malaysia network to present its election manifesto to the Malaysian people. The party rejected the slot on the grounds that it was an insult to the democratic process and unfair considering the government domination of the rest of network's schedule.

ARTICLE 19 has also been informed of a number of cases of violence against opposition politicians and their families, including an arson attack on the car belonging to the daughter of the PKR candidate Dr Xavier Jayakumar. When Malaysia's parliament was dissolved, Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi shocked many people when he wrote on Twitter: "We shall move to the warzone to kill all adversed political intruders."

In April, during a rally led by the outgoing Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, supporters chanted threats to kill opposition parliamentarian and PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang, shouting "Kill Tian Chua" after Hishammuddin branded Tian as a traitor.

Freedom of political debate has been recognised as an essential foundation of a democratic society by institutions and governments around the world. Under international law, political parties and candidates have a right to express their views freely through the mass media, the public has a right to hear those views and citizens have a right to adequate and balanced information to enable them to participate fully in voting to choose the future government. International law regards restraints on political speech, and particularly prior restraint, with extreme suspicion, especially since the value of information, particularly during an election, often depends on timely dissemination.

Finally, international law recognises that public broadcasters should be required to provide free access to airtime for political candidates. Such access must be allocated in a fair and non-discriminatory manner and on the basis of clear and objective criteria.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Malaysian government to ensure the security of all media outlets and oppositional party members and to protect the right to freedom of expression during the general elections.

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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