New York, August 29, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Malaysian government’s censorship of the popular news Web site and blog Malaysia Today. The blocking represents the first time officials have violated the government’s 1996 policy pledge not to censor the Internet.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the state agency charged with oversight of the communications industry, ordered the main state-run Internet service provider (ISP) on Tuesday to block the critical news site, according to Malaysia Today’s founder and editor, Raja Petra.
The site was first blocked at 6 p.m. and coincided exactly with Raja Petra’s plans to post real-time results of a special election, which opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim won in a landslide. A group of Malaysian bloggers, including Raja Petra, had positioned themselves at the elections’ 28 different polling stations to monitor the official counting and results.
On Wednesday, the MCMC ordered all 21 of the country’s ISPs to block Malaysia Today because it carried materials it deemed seditious and aimed at inciting racial hatred, according to Raja Petra, who reviewed a copy of the official document. It was unclear how many ISPs abided by the government’s orders.
When Raja Petra inquired on Thursday about why his Web site had been censored, an official told him it was because of inflammatory comments appended to a January 16 article, he said. On Friday, he republished the article and has kept Malaysia Today up and running through a mirror site and the creation of new URLs hosted in three different countries outside of Malaysia, he told CPJ.
“The Malaysian government has reneged on its pledge not to censor the Internet by blocking Malaysia Today, and we call for the order to be immediately withdrawn,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Asia program consultant. “Online curbs have no place in a democratic society.”
Malaysia Today is one of the leading news sites in the country’s vibrant and growing blogosphere, which has provided unprecedented space for critical news and views seldom reported in the government-influenced mainstream media. Raja Petra told CPJ that Malaysia Today now receives over 1.5 million unique readers per day, a larger readership than established pro-government newspapers.
“I can’t pin down the exact reason they have censored Malaysia Today, but they are obviously trying to silence us,” Raja Petra told CPJ.
Raja Petra has come under heavy government harassment for his journalism. On August 21, police officers raided his home in search of documents related to a story he had posted about opposition politician Anwar. Raja Petra has refused to hand over the documents and is scheduled to report to police on September 4 for interrogation.
Police officials have now raided his house on five separate occasions since he first established Malaysia Today in 2004. He is also scheduled to appear in court on September 2 over a separate story. Earlier this month a high court ordered Raja Petra to reveal his sources, but he has so far refused.
On May 6, Raja Petra was charged under Malaysia’s draconian Sedition Act and imprisoned for three days over his critical postings about a murder trial in which he has implicated Deputy Prime Minister, Defense Minister Najib Abdul Razak, and his wife. Najib has denied the allegations. The trial is scheduled to commence on October 6. He faces a possible three years in prison.
Raja Petra also faces three separate charges of criminal defamation over postings he made about the same trial. Those proceedings begin on November 3 and he faces a possible two years in prison for each of the charges if found guilty.
CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.