SEAPA is gravely concerned by reports that the Malaysian government is stepping up its censorship of the Internet.
On 13 December 2004, two leading Malay-language dailies, “Berita Harian” and “Harian Metro”, quoted Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak as saying that the government will investigate the news/opinion website “Malaysia-Today”, for conducting an open debate on privileges accorded to Muslims.
“We regard this move as a threat to freedom of expression and another step towards greater censorship of the Internet, which by far is the most viable medium of independent news and information in press-controlled Malaysia,” said a SEAPA statement.
The two local-language dailies have published articles alleging that “Malaysia-Today” has been denigrating Islam. The site has been running a series called “Open Debate on Islam” in its “Loony Malaysia” column, written by editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin.
An article on the website entitled, “One nation, two systems” raised questions about the alleged one-sided nature of religious debate in Malaysia. According to local news reports, Deputy Prime Minister Najib accused the author of “sowing the seeds of racial hatred.”
Raja Petra was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in April 2001 and previously ran the Free Anwar Campaign, closely linked with the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (the People’s Justice Party).
“Malaysia-Today” is the third website in three months taken to task by the government for raising issues related to Islam. In October, webmaster Jeff Ooi was threatened with prosecution under the ISA for allowing remarks made by an anonymous poster who criticised the coexistence of corruption and Islam on his website, “Screenshots”. The ISA provides for imprisonment without trial for up to two years. No charges were filed against the webmaster (see IFEX alerts of 7 October 2004).
On 18 November, the government ordered the closure of another online forum, “Malaysia Boleh”, for posting alleged inflammatory and seditious comments revolving around Malay rights and Islam.
SEAPA shares the concern of the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a Malaysian media advocate, that the latest attack effectively broadens the scope of websites being targeted by the pro-government mainstream media.
CIJ noted in a 14 December media statement that while the first two attacks on websites were against material involving strong language, this latest attack was significantly more measured.
SEAPA urges the Malaysian government to stop its censorship of the Internet, which it has pledged to do as part of its efforts to attract investors to its much-touted Information Technology industry.