Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned about the government’s growing readiness to resort to censorship amid continuing political scandals. Two Australian TV journalists were briefly arrested for approaching the prime minister and could be prosecuted, while a news website has announced that it is closing after being blocked.
It was if they had committed an act of lèse-majesté. Reporter Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu, who work for Australian TV broadcaster ABC, were arrested on a street in Kuching, on the island of Borneo, on 12 March shortly after approaching Prime Minister Najib Razak. When they were released the next day, their passports were briefly confiscated and they were told not to leave the country pending a decision as to whether they would be prosecuted. The police said they had crossed a “security line and aggressively tried to approach the prime minister.” The two journalists had wanted to interview Razak for the ABC investigative programme Four Corners about the “Althantuya affair,” a highly sensitive case of alleged corruption that has been the subject of repeated acts of censorship in the past. (See the arrest of blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin in 2011) The Malaysian Insider, a news website owned by the Edge Media Group, meanwhile announced today that it was closing as a result of a loss of income caused by the government’s decision to block it. “The Malaysian Insider suffered from the block and an already softening advertising market in Malaysia,” Jahabar Sadiq, Chief Executive Officer/Editor told RSF. “It’s a sad day as Malaysia needs more news portals to provide an unvarnished view of the nation.” Anyone trying to access the site since 25 February has found a notice announcing that it is being blocked for violating Section 233 of the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act, penalizing “improper use of network services.” The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission issued a statement the same day announcing that the decision to block the website was “based on complaints and information received from the public.” The statement added a reminder to news sites “not to distribute or publish articles that have not been verified.” “ We caution the authorities against any attempt to prosecute the two journalists,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It is an understatement to say that censorship is growing in Malaysia. What with Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel and Medium, and other news sites that are sometimes subject too temporary censorship, it is the entire independent and critical press that is being targeted. “This cannot continue forever. The international community must react in a concrete way and not just limit itself to statements. The United States must condition implementation of the Trans Pacific Partnership on respect for democratic freedoms, starting with freedom of the media and information.” In response to Malaysian government censorship, RSF recently created a “mirror” copy of the Sarawak Report news website, which is blocked in Malaysia because of its coverage of an alleged corruption case involving the prime minister. To deter the government from blocking access to the mirror, RSF is using the “Collateral Freedom” method pioneered by Greatfire.org as a way of unblocking access to sites censored in China. Internet users in Malaysia can now access the Sarawak Report at https://swk.global.ssl.fastly.net/. RSF plans to add to the list of sites that is it unblocking under Operation Collateral Freedom and will continue the operation for as long as the resources are available to cover the cost of the servers and the bandwidth consumed by the visitors to the mirror sites. To learn more about Operation Collateral Freedom and to see the list of sites that were unblocked to mark World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, go to: https://12mars.rsf.org/2016-en/#sites Malaysia is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index.