In a verdict with grave implications for press freedom, a Malaysian court has handed down the nation's first conviction under its recently enacted 'fake news' law.
Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman, a Danish citizen, was sentenced to one week in
prison and fined 10,000 ringgit (US$2,500) for posting to the internet a two-minute video criticizing police's response to the April 21 assassination of a member of the militant group Hamas in Kuala Lumpur.
Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast
Asia representative said:
Malaysia's first conviction under its 'fake news' law shows authorities plan to abuse the new provision to criminalize critical reporting. The dangerous precedent should be overturned and this
ill-conceived law repealed for the sake of press freedom.
Malaysia passed a repressive new law today that would punish citizens on social media or those working at a digital publication for publishing material deemed to be 'fake news' with a 500,000 ringgit ($123,000) fine and a possible a prison sentence of up
to six years.
Led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Anti-Fake News bill passed in parliament today despite opponents who had criticized the bill for impeding free speech and attempting to censor the prime minister's involvement in a
multibillion-dollar corruption scandal.
A draft of the bill had specified a prison sentence of up to 10 years as punishment, but the government toned it down to six in the finalized version. 'Fake news' cases will be handled by a court process.
Violators could even include those outside of Malaysia as long as they're writing about the country or its people.
The Malaysian law defines fake news as news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false. News includes
stories, video, and audio content.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) blocked 5,044 websites for various offences under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 since 2015 until October this year.
Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk
Jailani Johari said, out of the total, 4,277 are pornographic websites while another 767 displayed elements of gambling, prostitution, fraud, piracy, counterfeit products, unregistered medicine and others. He added:
MCMC blocks all the websites based on the application of the enforcement agencies such as the police, Health Ministry, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry and other relevant agencies.
Until last October, MCMC also blocked 72 websites related to the spread of Daesh or Islamic State ideology.
MCMC had also investigated 181 cases of social media and Internet abuse involving the spread of false
information and contents through the WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter plaform and so forth under the same Act. Jailani said, out of the total, six cases were brought to court, including five cases that were prosecuted while 10 cases were compounded.
Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Ministry has formally proposed legal amendments to the Attorney General that would require the country's political blogs and online news portals to register with the government. Minister Salleh Said Keruak
unconvincingly denies that the legislation amounts to censorship, arguing that the proposal is designed to preserve the Internet as a tool for promoting Malaysia's economic growth, and meant to protect the country against internal divisions brought about
by misleading information published online, he says.
Human rights groups and media freedom advocates denounced the proposal as a curtailment of free speech, saying the move reverses the government's earlier stated commitment to promoting Internet
Critics of Malaysia's ruling political party say the push to force political blogs to register with the state is a desperate tactic meant to silence dissent. Since last year, the government has struggled against a corruption scandal
that's sparked mass protests across the country. Internet users, including bloggers, are some of the prime minister's most vocal detractors, accusing him of ill-gotten gains in several dubious transactions. State censors have already blocked a handful of
news websites for reporting allegedly unverified information about the corruption issue.
Many bloggers who fear the proposed amendments recall recent comments by the communications minister, who said Internet freedom is a privilege , not a
right, and is something the government can curtail.:
Following our previous articles about increasing political censorship of the Internet in Malaysia, things have
quickly gone from bad to worse. In fact since July 2015, the Malaysian government has blocked at least ten websites, including online news portals and private blogs, for reporting about the scandal surrounding Malaysian Prime Minister Najib tun Razak
over his mysterious private dealings with $700 million in funds.
And the Malaysian government still clamors for more censorship authority, adding to
its existing broad powers under the Penal Code and the Sedition Act. Currently, the government is planning to table the amendments to both the Official Secret Act (OSA) and the Communication & Multimedia Act (CMA) during its upcoming March or May
Parliamentary sessions, to strengthen its control over content providers, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and end users.
As it stands, the CMA is already very expansive (although,
we argue , not expansive enough to make current acts of Internet censorship lawful). In its present form, section 211 of
the CMA addresses intermediaries such as ISPs, and section 233 addresses users, both in somewhat similar terms. In both cases, criminal penalties are imposed for any "comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent,
false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person."
As concerns ISPs, proposed changes would remove the intention requirement of that provision, making it much easier for
ISPs to be held liable for content of their users, regardless of their complicity or knowledge of the motivations with which it was posted. Fines for breaching this provision would increase twenty-fold, with an additional daily fine to increase one
hundred-fold, potentially putting intermediaries out of business for a single infringement.
For the users who post such content, penalties would also increase: fines would double and and prison terms triple. Not only this, but
ISPs would be placed under new data retention obligations, allowing users' activities to be tracked online--perhaps to the level of granularity of recording their Web browsing history, although this remains unclear.
also aims to add the power to immediately require the removal or blocking of offending content merely on the basis of a complaint, and unwarranted complaints would be penalized with merely a $50 slap-on-the-wrist. In "serious" casesincluding
those that fall within sections 211 or 233, as well as terrorism, pornography, and phishing, these blocks are permanent. In other cases, such as copyright infringement, the block would last for 5 days before they can be renewed by court order. Blocking
by court order is actually an improvement, if you can call it that, from the present situation in which such blocks are being made illegally in response to mere requests from government agencies.
Finally, foreign websites will be
deemed to be subject to local laws, including Malaysia's restrictive content rules--amongst the films that Malaysia has banned is Zoolander. Any foreign websites that do not comply with Malaysia's demands could be legally blocked, thereby consigning
Malaysian Internet users to a government-approved walled garden of sanitized content.
What can Malaysians and their friends around the world do about these new censorship moves by the increasingly repressive Malaysian regime? One
simple step that you can take now is to click below to join a Change.org petition to unblock Medium, which was blocked in its entirety because, amongst its millions of pages, it also
mirrored the content of the banned Sarawak Report . Unfortunately Malaysia is not the only country
within its region whose residents are suffering online censorship--read more about the state of free expression online in
Southeast Asia .
Malaysia has taken the first steps toward censoring the Internet with talks underway between the Home Ministry and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to begin blocking content that doesn't reflect supposed local culture and sensitivity.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the country's firewall would ensure that content on websites, such as YouTube and video-streaming sites, comply with Film Censorship Board rules. He said:
We are working with MCMC on this matter and I urge the commission to implement the system soon.
The minister added that the public needed to understand the government was responsible for ensuring Malays are not influenced by negative elements . He said that content creators would have to ensure their works did not
encourage Malaysians to do things against social and religious norms.
Netizens in Malaysia are having difficulty accessing a BBC story on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak being derided online for a comment on rising prices, raising fears that the Internet was being censored in the country.
against the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) charter, in which the Malaysian Government guarantees the Internet would not be censored, barring special circumstances.
The BBC article, entitled #BBCtrending: Be careful what you say about
spinach, chronicles the recent uproar over a statement made by Najib that the price of kangkung (or Chinese water spinach) has gone down. In a video that has gone viral, he lamented the fact that the Government has not been praised for this, but is being
criticised for the rising cost of living.
His statement has been attacked by Opposition leaders and civil advocates for being insensitive to the plight of average Malaysians, who this year face a slew of price hikes and subsidy reductions.
Internet users in Malaysia reported difficulty accessing the specific BBC post beginning late last night (January 15), with timeouts occurring after a long wait for the page to load, while the rest of the BBC site remained accessible.
Responding to queries by Digital News Asia (DNA), security expert and freelance IT solutions provider @sniiffit said that in a nutshell, what was being done is that all packets requesting the specific page were being dropped at the ISP level.
Malaysia's Federal Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) has urged the government to consider internet censorship to stop supposed attacks against Islam.
The call delivered in a sermon stated that given the challenges posed by anti-Islam
groups through information technology, it was important that the Muslim community used whatever reasonable strategy available including social media to counter, answer and ward off the propaganda of the enemies of Islam.
Muslims must be kept updated on current developments so that we get accurate information and not be influenced by enemy propaganda.
You all can also use new media such as YouTube, Twitter and blogs as mediums
to send out the right message and spread the teachings of Islam.
While Muslims are working at strengthening the economy and the Malay race, the enemies have not slackened for a minute to run their mission to destroy Islam by using
whatever strategy possible, including cyber troopers.
The Islamic body said it was required of Muslims to identify the agenda designed to erode the sanctity of Islam and to also identify those who attempted to do so. Jakim warned that
the international line of thinking, such as liberalism and pluralism, seems to be spreading fast via the internet and influencing the younger generation.
From our observations, many symbols and hundreds of websites on
the internet are being used to confuse and weaken those of the Islamic faith.
Malaysia's former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wants the authorities to impose internet censorship of pornography.
Once an advocate of non-censorship of the internet, Mahathir lamented that the easy access to sexually graphic sex sites are
negatively stimulating the minds of the young.
He claims without evidence that online pornography has led to a rise in violent sexual crimes and a supposed decline in morals.
There must be some form of
code of ethics to prevent such sites from being accessed. The governments of the respective countries should take action against those responsible for polluting the minds of young children with pornography.
He admitted that there was
opposition towards censoring the internet when he launched the Multimedia Super Corridor over a decade ago. However, he said the recent rise in violent sexual crimes and declining morals due to exposure to online pornography was alarming.
then claimed that such censorship would somehow not curb freedom of expression.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) corporate communications head Sheikh Abdul Rafie Sheikh Abd Rahman previously made similar claims that while
pornography sites were usually censored, it somehow did not amount to censorship.
Malaysian activists and bloggers are staging an online black-out for one day to protest against changes to a law they say restricts free speech online.
They have replaced their home pages with black screens critical of the Evidence Act, revised in
April, for Internet Black-out Day.
Critics say the law makes people unfairly liable for content published from networks and personal devices. The revised law means that Malaysians could get into trouble even if their devices or internet
connections have been hacked into, critics say.
Premesh Chandran, founder of online news site Malaysiakini, said that the burden of proof on internet users was unfair.
In other words, if defamatory comments are
posted on a blog, the blog owner is likely to be sued or charged with criminal defamation, Malaysiakini said in a statement on its website.
Malaysia's Evidence (Amendment) (No.2) Act 2012 came into operation on June 1. The impact of this hastily and stealthily rushed legislation could be devastating.
De facto law minister Nazri Abdul Aziz denies that amendments to the Evidence Act
were a means for the government to curb online dissent by making Internet anonymity more difficult to maintain or ignorance to be used as an excuse.
However opposition leaders such as DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng are unconvinced. Lim said
that the amendment which was passed during the last sitting of the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara will make it easier for the government to launch selective prosecutions of members of the opposition and civil society .
According to him,
a person is traditionally presumed innocent until proven guilty but the Evidence Act 2012 reverses this truism. Lim illustrates with a personal example: In other words, I am responsible for anything posted on my website and the burden is on me to
prove my innocence, not on the prosecution to prove my guilt .
Centre for Independent Journalism executive officer Masjaliza Hamzah has termed the amendments as a threat to freedom of expression and media freedom.
The amendments are clearly an indirect way to control online content as it makes online sites responsible for comments posted by readers; forget about disclaimers on the comment section.
This may force some
sites to stop the comment feature because having to vet comments themselves may become untenable, and if this happens, it has a huge impact on the interactive nature of online media favoured by readers, she is reported to have said.
The bottom line is that any repressive piece of legislation which can be misused by the powers-that-be to prohibit or curtail legitimate freedom of expression by its opponents is, in essence, a bad law.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is monitoring various blog sites and news portals.
Information Communication and Culture Deputy Minister Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum said, this followed an influx of websites and blogs
in the Internet, making it difficult for the authorities to monitor each site.
He said the commission also monitored Internet sites based on public complaints:
We encourage the public to lodge complaints
with the MCMC Complaints Bureau (aduan.skmm.gov.my), Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Forum (CMCF-www.cmcf.my) and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Consumer Forum (CfM-www.cfm.org.my), should they know of any site or blog flouting
He claimed that this legal action could not be regarded as censorship as it was done to enforce the country's laws: The government will not censor any content on the internet unless it is against our laws .
[or opposes the government's version of the truth].
While the Malaysian government has continually ensured that there would be no censorship of the Internet in the country, an alleged leaked memo requesting Malaysian ISPs to block file-hosting sites suggests otherwise.
The memo in question appears
to be issued by Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on May 30, and was leaked on Facebook, Malaysia-based Lowyat.Net forum, and blogs on June 9.
The MCMC, which is the country's internet censor, has yet to deny or confirm the
In the memo, the MCMC requested that Malaysian ISPs block access to ten file-hosting and sharing URLs, including Megaupload, Fileserve, and The Pirate Bay. It cited Section 268 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998,
which states that ISPs (licensees) must try their best to prevent its network from being used for activities that contravenes with Malaysian law.
International hacktivist group Anonymous has carried through on its threat to attack the Malaysian government's main website www.malaysia.gov.my over the government's proposed censoring of several file sharing websites, including the
Pirate Bay and Megaupload.
A few days ago, the group posted a YouTube video about its intentions to carry out the attacks at 3.30am (local time) on Thursday.
At least 50 other government websites were attacked, including the state of
Sabah's tourism website, and the Tourism Malaysia website. The websites of the Royal Malaysian Police, the Malaysian Parliament, the Ministry of Finance as well as the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism, which were restored before 9 am (local time).
Thousands of Malaysians took to the roads in protest of the decision made by the regulatory body Malaysian Communications and Multimedia
Commission to block 10 file-sharing websites in its effort to combat piracy.
The websites are mostly used to download pirated content including movies, TV shows and music.
The protest could be seen on Facebook as well, with over 6,500
people posting messages against the decision.
Police in China say they are seeking a man who allegedly threw an egg and shoes at the designer of the country's Great Firewall of internet censorship.
Fang Binxing was lecturing at Wuhan University, Hubei province, when the alleged protest took
Reports of the attack spread quickly on Twitter after a user named Hanunyi posted his account of the incident.
Hanunyi posted a live account of the alleged shoe-throw on his profile page, including a picture of a hand clutching an
egg: The egg missed the target. The first shoe hit the target. The second shoe was blocked by a man and a woman .
Fang is reviled by many Chinese web users for overseeing development of China's system of internet censorship.
China has set up a new censorship body to control information on the internet.
The State Internet Information Office will take over responsibility from a number of lower-ranking directorates.
The new set-up is intended to enable the
government to keep a more repressive grip on the content available to internet-users in China.
The newly-created State Internet Information Office brings technical and political control over the internet under one body, with Information Minister
Wang Chen in charge. This in effect gives his ministry more power than the other agencies involved.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak promised Malaysians that his administration would never censor the Internet.
Twice in recent years, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government has explored introducing Internet-filtering software, saying
it was necessary to combat child pornography, before backing off after public outcry.
Speaking at the 1st Malaysian-ASEAN Regional Bloggers Conference, Mr Najib said that Malaysia has one of the liveliest and one of the freest, if not most free
, blogospheres in the world.
While stressing that it is important for bloggers and Internet users to draw the line , Najib said his administration still welcomed constructive criticism and wanted to work with them as partners: There
is a difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. But what is important is for us to put forth our view to ... build a better Malaysi a.
The Malaysian government's latest proposal for internet censorship has come under fire from opposition politicians and industry watchers.
According to a report by local news agency Bernama, the Home Ministry was reviewing the definition of the
word publication in the country's Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984 to decide if it should now include Internet content, blogs and social networks such as Facebook.
Under the Act, all printing presses require a licence that
must be renewed yearly and renewed based on the approval of the Home Ministry.
Malaysia's laws, detailing that the Internet cannot be censored, are provisioned under the Multimedia Super Corridor Bill of Guarantees as well as the Communications
and Multimedia Act 1998. The government has largely kept its promise not to enforce Internet censorship so far.
The announcement, however, has received condemnation from the online community including social networks Twitter and Facebook, as well
as politicians and industry watchdogs.
Lim Kit Siang, parliamentary leader of opposition Democratic Action Party, described the move as the government's latest attempt to quell online dissent and a clear violation of its promise not to enforce
censorship on the Internet.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) also described the latest move as a backward attempt to block the spread of information to the public.
In a bid to quell the rising dissent, Home Minister Hishammuddin
Hussein said in the local press that the proposed PPPA amendments have yet to be finalized and discussions are still in the early stage.
Malaysia does not intend implement an internet filter similar to China's Green Dam project, the Deputy Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum told the Dewan Rakyat.
Salang said the government will leave it to
the discretion of internet users to practice good usage, rather than use censorship to cull abuse of the internet.
He also clarified that a survey by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to study on China's internet filter
operation was simply, a study .
The study on China does not mean that we want to impose internet censorship like them. We just wanted to see how effective their programme is, and what we can learn from it. But it does not mean we want to
impose the same thing, said Salang.
The deputy minister also urged bloggers to exercise caution in their blog entries, and to refrain from insulting the country as well as its rulers.
The alternative media is no longer alternative , in fact it has become the preferred media among the public now. Since the government does not intend to censor internet content, bloggers and internet users must exercise caution, said Salang.
Malaysia has formed a task force to censor the Internet of blog postings deemed harmful to national unity.
Home ministry deputy secretary general for security Abdul Rahim Mohamad Radzi said the unit would involve the police, Internet regulators,
the information ministry and the attorney general's chambers: It is a mechanism that will coordinate these various agencies to help monitor what is being said in cyberspace and to take action against those that are trying to stoke racial tensions and
Abdul Rahim said the group would also monitor alternative and mainstream media for similar content: There is a disturbing trend now appearing on the Internet where some people are inciting racial unrest and causing confusion and
this will damage the peace we have in the country
Abdul Rahim cited the recent case of a Facebook page that insulted Muslim Malays. Police are also investigating ethnic Chinese rapper Wee Meng Chee for sedition, after he posted a three-minute
rap on YouTube criticising a Malay headmistress accused of making racial slurs against minority students.
In another case, Malaysian journalist Irwan Abdul Rahman was charged this week over a satirical blog which made fun of the state power firm
Tenaga, and faces a year's jail if convicted.
State media said that Irwan Abdul Rahman, a sub-editor with a Malay-language daily, pleaded not guilty in the Sessions Court to a charge of posting a fictitious comment.
It said he was accused
of intent to hurt over the posting, entitled TNB to sue WWF over Earth Hour which jokingly said Tenaga would take action over the World Wildlife Fund's annual energy-saving initiative.
took almost a year, but the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court has dismissed the charges against Irwan Abdul Rahman, noting that there were no grounds for prosecution.
As Rahman points out in his post on the case, having the case discharged does not
amount to an acquittal. Almost one year for Rahman to get out from under the pressure of a court case. Is that just Malaysian justice slowly grinding forward? Possibly.
But it's also one year of intimidation for one blogger who dared to poke fun
at a powerful government-run institution. Lingering in the back of every Malaysian journalist's mind, the case was and remains chilling.
A blogger, who had allegedly posted doctored images of Kelantan Mentri Besar, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim. The image is reported to have Nik Abdul Aziz having anal intercourse with Anwar.
Kelantan PAS Security
Committee, secretary Mohamad Ibrahim, lodged a report after discovering the pictures on the Internet.
According to another news report, the blogger is currently being held under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, which relates
to improper use of network facilities or network service to comment, request or suggest in a communication which is obscene, false, offensive, or used to abuse, threaten or harass another person.
If convicted, the blogger faces a maximum one year
jail term and/or a maximum fine of RM50,000.
A Malaysian court has charged a blogger with posting comments that insulted a late state sultan.
Khairul Nizam Abdul Ghani pleaded not guilty at a court in central Negeri Sembilan state. He was accused of insulting Sultan Iskandar Ismail of
southern Johor state, who died Jan. 22, The Star and New Straits Times newspapers reported.
He was charged with improper use of network facilities by transmitting comments deemed obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive. The
offense carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a fine.
It was unclear what Khairul Nizam wrote. It has been removed from his blog and lawyers and court officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Last year, several
people were charged with posting allegedly derogatory comments. One pleaded guilty and was fined 10,000 ringgit ($3,000). The others are on trial.
Malaysia's Ministry of Information Communication and Culture has rebuffed allegations the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) abused its power in controlling the new media and condemns comparisons to Adolph Hitler's secret Nazi
police Gestapo .
The ministry said in a statement that the allegations showed that certain groups were attempting to tarnish the image and ridicule the commission as an independent body that regulates the country's Internet facilities and
content. It noted that regulatory measures undertaken by the MCMC, Malaysia's ICT regulator, had always been transparent, fair and balanced .
In fact, the commission is an agency that upholds and protects government policies. This has
been proven because to date, Malaysia is among the countries that do not impose any restriction on the Internet, except for Web sites that contain pornography, threats to the national security and fraud, the ministry said. It confirmed that certain
sites had been closed through legal processes, in line with provisions under the Communications and Multimedia Act.
The ministry said comments by owners of Web sites that had accused the MCMC of purportedly closing down their sites and acting like
Gestapo were slanderous . What had occurred on the day in question was a technical disruption that resulted in the Web sites concerned to be inaccessible to the public, it said.
The ministry did not specify the sites it referred to
in its statement but in the past month, the MCMC has been accused of pulling the plug on Malaysia Today, a blog known for its anti-government stand. The Commission had also been investigating online political news portal Malaysiakini over the posting of
two allegedly offensive video clips. The political news site later refused to comply with a Sep. 3 order issued by the MCMC to remove the videos.
The investigation had generated a deluge of negative publicity for the government, including
statements from international lobby groups describing the MCMC's action against Malaysiakini as harassment .
A Malaysian state government searched for a new site for a Hindu temple, bowing to pressure from Muslim residents who staged a gruesome protest against its planned construction that triggered debate about religious intolerance.
central Selangor state tried to reach a compromise in talks with residents of the Muslim-majority neighborhood in the state capital, Shah Alam, where the temple was to be built. The meeting descended into chaos when protesters shouted insults at Selangor
Chief Minister Abdul Khalid Ibrahim and other lawmakers, according to a video of the meeting posted on Malaysiakini, an independent news Web site.
The protesters insist the temple would be too close to their homes and could generate excessive
noise and traffic, which would disrupt their concentration during Muslim prayers they ludicrously claimed.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has criticised
the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) over its request to online news portal, Malaysiakini to take down videos related to a controversial protest against the relocation of a temple in Shah Alam, close to the capital city of Kuala
CIJ executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran said the request was unwarranted as it is an attempt by the government body to silence the messenger, in this case the media, from reporting news.
She was referring to the letter sent
to Malaysiakini by the MCMC requesting it to remove two videos from its website. One of the videos was a footage from the protest where a group of residents, mainly Malay Muslim dragged a severed cow head to the premise of the state government office to
protest the relocation of a Hindu temple to their residential area on 28 August. Cows are generally regarded with respect by most Hindu devotees.
Despite the action, there was no immediate police investigation into the protest, which civil
society groups condemned as legitimising violence and hatred. In the last week, the Home Minister has come out in defense of the protestors and even described them as victims in the issue. The Prime Minister has come out more strongly against the actions
of the protestors and the authorities have promised to investigate the matter. The Home Minister's statement was made in an environment where activists, critics and opposition political parties have very little space for expression as the media is
overwhelmingly controlled by the ruling government and where their public demonstrations have been met with heavy-handed tactics by the state.
Six Malaysian Muslims have been charged with sedition for parading the severed head of a cow through the streets of Shah Alam in Selangor state last month. The men were protesting against the building of a Hindu temple near a mosque in the area.
Some of the demonstrators stamped and spat on the cow's head.
The case has stoked tensions between Malaysia's Muslim majority and the Indian, mainly Hindu, minority to whom cows are considered sacred.
Twelve of the protesters were charged
with illegal assembly, which could see them fined and jailed for up to a year.
Six were also charged with sedition - for promoting hostility between different groups - and could face an additional three years in jail.
Salehuddin Saidin said his clients were carrying the cow head to illustrate the state government's stupidity - and did not intend to offend local Hindus: For Malays, the cow symbolises stupidity, not an insult to any other religion, Salehuddin
The authorities in Selangor have now found an alternative site for the Hindu temple, further away from the mosque.
Update: Reporters without Borders supports
Reporters Without Borders has pledged its backing to independent news website Malaysiakini which has decided to resist an order to remove two news videos judged to be offensive by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.
commission told the website in a letter on 3 September that it considered the two film clips offensive and intended to upset people, and particularly the Indians . The penalty for refusing to comply is a fine of 50,000 ringgit (14,325
dollars) and one year in prison.
The website www.malaysiakini.com had posted two video clips accessible only to subscribers to the site, the first on 28 August showing demonstrations by Malay Muslims against the building of a Hindu temple in their
neighbourhood, in which they spat on and trampled the bloodied head of a cow, an animal sacred to Hindus. The second, on 2 September 2009, featured interior minister, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, speaking at a press conference at which he urged
demonstrators not to use violence, while defending their right to protest.
But in a change of stance, on 3 September, the minister ordered proceedings against the demonstrators. The removal order was made under the Communications and Multimedia
Act of 1988 banning all content that is indecent, obscene, false, threatening or offensive with the intention or harming, abusing, threatening or harassing a third party .
The Malaysiakini website is right to resist the censorship
the government is trying to impose on it. The authorities should understand that it is footage that shows something that happened, which may indeed be embarrassing for some authorities but does not constitute an offence , the worldwide press freedom
The Malaysian government claimed that it efforts to enhance legal provisions and policies to deal with illegal and immoral activities on the Internet will not lead to the removal of provisions under laws ensuring no censorship of the Web.
Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Internet had given rise to cyber-threats which were a real concern to the nation due to the illegal and immoral activities in cyberspace and the Government was forced to look at ways to curb such activities:
Nevertheless, as we know freedom of speech is not absolute, it must come with responsibility, (because) what is illegal and immoral should be the same for both the online and offline environment, he told reporters.
He said the Bill of
guarantees and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 provide for no censorship of the Internet and this would be maintained.
Malaysian bloggers who incite hatred or harp on sensitive issues like race and religion in their postings can be prosecuted for sedition, said Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.
He said the Government would put in
place a mechanism to monitor and prevent seditious content from being displayed on blogs: The proposed mechanism will not only protect Islam or the Malays but all Malaysians.
Hishammuddin said issues relating to the monarchy, race or
religion were sensitive in a plural society like Malaysia and there must be some laws to prevent seditious postings on the Internet: In the past we didn't have such problems but with the advent of cyberspace, such seditious postings could probably
hurt the feelings of certain communities.
Hishammuddin said the proposed move was not meant to clamp down or censor the Internet ...BUT... to maintain the peace and harmony among the people in the country: There are a few
irresponsible bloggers; I'm not saying all have the tendency to post sensitive issues. There should be some boundaries when posting in blogs. Irresponsible bloggers can cause disunity and derail the 1Malaysia concept.
Hishammuddin said the
Information, Communication and Culture Ministry, the Prime Minister's Department, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and police will discuss the issue and come out with proposals for the monitoring
Dismissing a news report that the government was designing software to block websites, Information, Communication and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said that three ministries have been tasked to look into ways to curb the spread of lies and
seditious materials on the Internet.
He said that the ministries involved would look at instances of sedition, fraud and child pornography on the Internet to provide law enforcement agencies with the necessary information.
involved are the Home Minister, Information Communication and Culture Minister and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.
There is no need to censor political content on the Internet, said Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He said during his tenure as prime minister, he did not censure information from the Internet and hoped the present Government would keep the status quo.
Dr Mahathir did acknowledge, however, that there is too much filth and violence on the Internet and that it should be vetted by the Government.
But if people are not instigating violence, then it should not be censored, he said,
adding that political content, such as blogs and online news portal should not be restricted.
Yesterday, Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim confirmed that there were plans to develop an Internet filtering
system, although only for pornography.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation vice-president Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye welcomed the Government's decision to filter pornography on the Internet, saying that pornography could lead to crime and
social problems. Lee said if the Government had decided to filter the content on the Internet, it would have received a negative response from the public: Any form of censorship, in this ICT era, will be unpopular as it is contrary to the need for
transparency, accountability and the free flow of information .
The Malaysian government have stepped in quickly to deny a plan to impose sate internet filtering.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said there was too much going against filtering, making it ineffective. He said with the ease of information
flowing globally, any move to filter Internet access here would only breed public discontent: In this borderless and IT age, information flows freely... the government has no desire to implement Internet filtering.
Najib was commenting on
a statement by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, who said they were looking at blocking access to pornographic websites.
It had been earlier reported that Rais' ministry was evaluating the possibility of
an Internet filter similar to China's Green Dam Youth Escort software.
Despite a guarantee of no censorship in Malaysia's 'Multimedia Super Corridor', Datuk Seri Rais Yatim's ministry is evaluating the feasibility of putting an Internet filter blocking undesirable websites — similar to China's aborted Green Dam
software. [although that's not really described in the rest of the article]
The study is to be completed by this December and the results will be handed to a shadowy unit monitoring blogs and websites although the decision on implementation
will lie with the National Security Council headed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Critics say any move to filter the Internet is against the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Bill of Guarantees apart from being largely ineffective as
most Internet surfers can circumvent filters through proxy servers.
The move comes on the back of proposals to register bloggers, most of whom are said to be anti-government, and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition parties to have a larger
According to tender documents seen by The Malaysian Insider, the study will
evaluate the readiness and feasibility for the implementation of Internet filter at Internet gateway level, through assessments on the existing infrastructure and existing products in the market.
evaluate and estimate costs for the
investigate the existing legal framework in addressing content filtering and no censorship issue, including the impacts that are caused by the implementation to Internet users and the Malaysian economy.
JThe digital age has been weighing heavily on former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad's mind.
He broached the subject in two separate talks. On 16 May, he spoke about Internet porn at Bloggers Universe Malaysia 2009. In his speech he said he
regretted the pledge he made not to regulate the Internet when he was prime minister.
I wish we can control... When we started the Multimedia Super Corridor, we promised the people that we will not censor the Internet. But at times, I
regretted this. Dr Mahathir said he had surfed porn sites just to see how easy it is for a child to do so. My God, it was so easy. All you've got to do is to put 'SEX' and you get everything, all the filth in the world would be shown to you
- in motion.
But Internet censorship is out, he said: While in the past, we can close down the printing shops, we can seize their papers, we can do a lot of things, today, it is just impossible.