• Population: 23,965,000
  • Internet users: 7,841,000 (2002)
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 7 euros
  • DAI*: 0.57
  • Situation**: difficult

The government says the Internet is hugely important for the country and communications and mulmtimedia minister Chia Kwang Chye has stressed that it will not be censored. In practice, harassment and threats make webmasters censor online material.

Minister Chia Kwang Chye said in late 2003 that the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act needed adapting to the Internet and that principles would have to be applied to online activity. He said he favoured "positive usage" of an Internet that was free of "false news which could cause negative impacts on social harmony" - remarks that were a sign of the strict control of the Internet the government really wants.

Making online publications "responsible"

The elections commission said in July 2003 it would prosecute the authors of "defamatory" material on websites or in e-mail and text-messages. Election candidates would also be held responsible during campaigning for the online behaviour of their supporters and would have to promise in writing not to raise "sensitive issues." The commission did not define "defamatory" or "sensitive issues." The government wanted to avoid what happened at the 1999 elections, when the opposition made extensive use of the Internet.

The March 2004 parliamentary election campaign involved much online activity, with heated debate and rivalry conducted through party websites and on discussion groups and blogs. Hacking into sites increased and visitors to the online publication of the Rakyat Malaysia party were briefly redirected to a pornographic site.

Harassment of Malaysiakini continues

The government has harassed the country's only independent online daily, Malaysiakini (www.malaysiakini.com.my) since 2002 with verbal threats to its staff and searches of their homes.

The website was ordered on 22 January 2003 to leave its offices before the end of February by its landlord, the firm PC Suria, which is close to the government. The eviction order was eventually dropped and the site was able to stay in its offices.

Malaysiakini is also the regular target of hackers. Just before the March 2004 elections, the site was knocked offline for several hours by a hacker working from Kuala Lumpur's main college of new technology and overwhelming the site with bogus traffic. The website's staff said this kind of attack was common, especially after sensitive material had been posted, and that the country's hackers were regularly recruited to do it. The head of Malaysiakini, Premesh Chandran, said "everybody should respect the democratic process, which includes a free press and access to information," so citizens could make "an informed decision."

An online journalist freed

One of Malaysiakini's journalists, Hishamuddin Rais (also a documentary filmmaker), was arrested along with five political dissidents on 10 April 2001 and jailed without trial for two years under the Internal Security Act for "attempting to overthrow the government." He was freed on 4 June 2003.

Two websites blocked by a British Internet host

The British website host Easyspace blocked access to www.freeanwar.com and www.black14.com on 11 December 2003 because of allegedly libellous content. The sites had campaigned for the release of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed in 1998 for supposed corruption and sodomy.

The sites were cut off after the host got an e-mail from someone living in Australia accusing them of libel and threatening to sue in an Australian court, noting that Australian law allowed such action, an implicit reference to the so-called Gutnick ruling of 1992. This ruling said that since the same online material could be seen anywhere in the world, webmasters responsible for it could also be prosecuted in any country, not just the one from which it was posted.

The Easyspace example is a striking illustration of the dangers posed by the Gutnick ruling. Rather than face prosecution in Australia, Easyspace chose to remove the offending material without even investigating the validity of the complaint. It was only when the case got publicity after the intervention of organisations such as Reporters Without Borders that it looked at the details of the complaint and decided to put the two websites back online.

The danger is that individuals and pressure groups may rush to cite the Guttnick ruling in an effort to censor online material they do not like.


* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.


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