Back to harassment, intimidation and censorship
When Malaysia experienced its first-ever transfer of power through elections in May 2018, the environment for journalists became much more favourable and the country rose dramatically in RSF’s Press Freedom Index. But all this has gone into reverse since the former ruling coalition was restored to power after 22 months in March 2020. The measures taken by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government have included reviving the Special Affairs Department, known by the Malay acronym of JASA, which pumps out political propaganda and was awarded the vast sum of 85 million ringgits (17.4 million euros) in funding in the 2021 budget. The government can rely on a draconian legislative arsenal with which to suppress media freedom, an arsenal that includes the 1948 Sedition Act, the 1972 Official Secrets Act and the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act. Under these laws, which deserve a complete overhaul, the authorities have a strict control over publication licences and journalists can be sentenced to 20 years in prison on sedition charges. For the media, the restoration of more authoritarian rule in 2020 has led to prosecutions, police searches, expulsions (of journalists and a whistleblower) and flagrant violations of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. To protect themselves against the government’s offensive, many journalists have had to censor themselves.
101 in 2020
33.12 in 2020