Civil society groups oppose government plan to impose Internet censorship

[Original title: Civil society groups oppose Malaysian government plan to impose Internet censorship. The following is a statement co-signed by the Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia (CIJ), SEAPA’s associate member based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]

Reject Internet censorship; repeal the PPPA and Sedition Act

We are civil society groups alarmed by recent remarks from top ministerial personnel that revealed government intention to censor online free expression, from hints of “cyber sedition regulations” and the expansion of the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) to encompass the online media.

We strongly protest any attempt to enlarge the scope of the PPPA, and reiterate our calls for the abolition of this law and the Sedition Act, as well as other overly restrictive laws that have no place in the modern, democratic society that Malaysia aspires to be.

The PPPA has been so effective in shackling the press over the past decades, it is horrifying to think that its drastic provisions may be applied to Internet publications, spreading the chilling effect online. It is not difficult to imagine news sites requiring permits, as set by the Chinese example. And judging by numerous books that are banned annually under the PPPA, certain online text and multimedia materials are likely to face the same fate as ‘undesirable publications’, while Facebook and Twitter users may easily find themselves landed with charges of spreading ‘false news’.

Most worrying is the lack of checks and balances in the PPPA – the biggest of which is the finality of the Minister’s decision, compared with the Communications and Multimedia Act, which at least provides for judicial recourse.

To impose the PPPA online will end the vigour of our cyber space and may radicalise dissent.

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says the amendments are still being discussed and it was ‘premature’ for the media and the public to question this. However, this lack of transparency and public consultation is another point of contention for us. We vehemently object to the federal government’s opaque approach in introducing new laws and amendments, revealing little and causing much unease by hinting rather than informing of what is forthcoming. The lack of public consultation on matters that have a huge impact on the people shows that they are likely to be problematic, yet the government obviously intends to bulldoze its way through.

Thus, we believe that the threat to police the Internet is real, as indicated from the very set-up of a cross-ministerial group – consisting of the Home Minister; Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim; Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz; and Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail – to focus on restrictions on online free expression.

The aim is obvious – to rein in the last frontier of free media.

The timing, with snap elections expected this year, indicates political motivation at work since online dissent was credited as a contributing factor to the incumbent federal government’s poorest results in four decades in the 2008 general election.

Indeed, the federal government appears to be taking a leaf from our southern neighbour, [Singapore] where the ruling People’s Action Party-led government has intensified its harassment and regulation of online media ahead of polls.

We would like to caution the federal government that any violation of the “no Internet censorship” guarantee that has been the rallying call for foreign investors to join the Multimedia Super Corridor project since it was launched in 1996, would tarnish Malaysia’s reputation and prove detrimental for investment.

Any attempt to suppress Internet freedom would result in civil society groups and the wider public going all out to turn this into a major election issue. We call on the people, whose freedoms are already narrowed by the limited press freedom and freedoms of association and assembly in the country, to rise and defend their last frontier for freedom of expression – make your voices heard in the remaining free space or take it to the ballot box.

This statement was initiated by:
Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia
Charter 2000-Aliran
Writers Alliance for Media Independence
1 Muted Malaysia

Endorsed by:

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
Civil Rights Committe of KL-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (CRC-KLSCAH)
Civil Society Committee of Lim Lian Giok Cultural Development Centre
Coalition Anti Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Community Action Network
Community Development Centre (CDC)
Gabungan NGO Kelantan (Coalition Of NGOs Of Kelantan)
Health Equity Initiatives
Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (JERIT)
Lawyers for Liberty
Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement (DEMA)
Pekan Frinjan
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)

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The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all peoples will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek and impart information.