Countries under surveillance 2010 - Malaysia
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||18 March 2010|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Countries under surveillance 2010 - Malaysia, 18 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c21f66aa.html [accessed 22 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
For the time-being, there is no network censorship on the Malaysian agenda, but bloggers and online journalists are being harassed and the authorities are producing a proliferation of statements about their distrust of the new media.
Credibility: The new media's prerogative
News websites and blogs have flourished as an alternative to the state-controlled traditional media. The new media have acquired genuine credibility and, keeping pace with their growth, a high-quality online journalism broaching important subjects has emerged on such sites as NutGraph, Malaysian Insider and Malaysiakini and on blogs like Articulations, Zorro Unmasked, People's Parliament and Malaysia Today.
The opposition was quick to permeate the new media, but the government and ruling party also followed the movement. The Barisan Nasional Party has organized a special unit responsible for disseminating ideas on the Net. The Internet created new opportunities for all political actors, and not just for parties. By allowing them to reach a heterogeneous audience, it is challenging traditional censorship barriers. However, the authorities have been producing an increasing number of statements calling into question the new media's legitimacy.
Harassed bloggers and websites
The regime is, indeed, showing a certain degree of exasperation toward bloggers and independent websites. It sometimes yields to the temptation of prosecuting them by using the legal weapons at its disposal. Some twenty-odd laws can be deployed to censor the media and the Internet. Most often enforced against netizens is the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows them to keep an individual in custody for two years without a trial, the 1984 Press Law and publications, the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998, and the Sedition Act. The latter penalizes any expression likely to incite hatred or disaffection with regard to Malaysian authorities or between "races" and social classes, changing the established order, or challenging any sovereign right or privilege. Any person found guilty faces a potential prison term of up to five years and a fine of MYR 5,000 (about USD 1,475).
The Malaysiakini site is being investigated by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for posting videos that authorities deemed shocking, but which, according to the site's chief editor, merely constituted coverage of events of general public interest, in this case demonstrations. Malaysiakini is extremely popular, with 37 million pages seen per month by 1.6 million single visitors.
Blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, better known by his acronym RPK, who is the director of the news site Malaysia Today, is the victim of a genuine judicial harassment campaign. He is the pet peeve of the authorities, whose acts of corruption he has denounced numerous times. He stands accused of sedition after having implied that the Prime Minister and his wife might be involved in the murder of a Mongolian interpreter within the scope of an explosive case concerning politics and arms sales. The authorities are now threatening to withdraw his Malaysian citizenship and to issue an international arrest warrant against him. In November 2009, the court had "suspended" his trial by granting him a discharge because he could not be located. But the accusations remain intact and he can be arrested again at any time.
Another blogger, Khairul Nizam Abdul Ghani, was accused of insulting the monarchy and should be tried by the end of March 2010. This freelance computer technician had posted on his blog, www.adukataruna.blogspot.com, critical comments about Sultan Iskandar Ismail of the state of Johor, who died this past January. He could be given a sentence of up to one year and pay a fine, even though he apologized and withdrew the incriminating article from his blog.
In March 2009, eight Internet users were prosecuted for insulting the Sultan of the state of Perak, which was undergoing a political crisis. One of them, Internet user Azrin Mohd Zain, was sentenced to pay a fine of MYR 10,000 (about USD 2,950) by virtue of the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Act of 1998. The seven others are awaiting trial.
Lawyer P. Uthayakumar, and a member of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HRAF), detained since December 2007 in the name of the Internal Security Act (ISA), was released in May 2009. The authorities accused him of having published on his Internet website (http://www.policewatchmalaysia.com), a letter to the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, asking him to support the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the "atrocities and persecutions" perpetrated by the Malaysian government against the Hindu minority and to refer the case for trial to the International Criminal Court.
No censorship on the agenda?
The Malaysian Minister of Culture and Communication's proposal to install a Web filtering software system was rejected by the government in August 2009 after demonstrations protesting against this initiative. The Minister considered using, for example, the "Green Dam filtering software program" used by the Chinese, under the pretext that it was necessary to "maintain racial harmony in a multicultural nation."
In the last few months, the authorities have reiterated the promise made in 1996, during the launching of the Multimedia Super Corridor – a special economic and technological zone – not to censor the Internet. Notably in a letter sent to Reporters Without Borders in June 2009, they further explained that censorship was not on the table. But at the same time they warned citizens about engaging in "immoral online activities," they also advised them to allow themselves to be "guided by their cultural and moral values" in cyberspace.