Malaysian sites report disruption of access near elections

Bangkok, May 3, 2013–Malaysian online news sites say access to their websites is being disrupted in the run-up to the general elections scheduled for Sunday.

“The free flow of information is vital to the citizens of Malaysia at this critical moment when the nation is about to head into elections,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Disrupting access to online news sites is a deplorable tactic that runs counter to democracy and press freedom, and must be halted immediately.”

Sites including Malaysiakini and Harakahdaily, which cover local and national news, said they have been blocked since early this week by local Internet service providers (ISPs), preventing domestic users from viewing their pages, news reports said. Investigations conducted by the outlets revealed that some connections were outright blocked while other access was sporadic when using certain ISPs, reports said. Harakahdaily said that as a backup measure, it would post all news in full on its Facebook page.

The May 5 election is expected to be extremely close, and both the government and opposition have sought to gain an electoral edge through online and social media. Malaysia’s mainstream media is either government-controlled or closely aligned with Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition. Online news providers such as Malaysiakini have earned a reputation for independent reporting.

Radio Free Sarawak and Sarawak Report, U.K.-based online media that often report critically on government policies and alleged corruption in the state of Sarawak, were hit with massive denial-of-service attacks on April 11, according to local and international news reports. A DOS attack prevents a website from functioning normally by overloading its host server with external communications requests. Both sites were disabled for several days before restoring regular service on April 16.

Radio Free Malaysia, a Web radio portal established in March to provide election-related news, was also hit by a cyberattack, according to the same reports. Editors at all three publications blamed the government for the attacks, the reports said.

The government has denied all of the allegations and said Internet congestion could have caused users to experience difficulties in accessing the sites, news reports said. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the state agency charged with oversight of the communications industry, has said it will launch an investigation.

The agency has in the past ordered ISPs to block sites it has deemed a threat to security. In 2008, the agency ordered domestic ISPs to block local access to Malaysia Today, saying the outlet had published materials it deemed seditious.

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