Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has reiterated his demand that the Malaysian government censor the Internet in order to “protect public morality”.
Mahathir was Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003, but continues to wield influence in the ruling coalition that has been in power since the 1950s.
A few months ago, media outlets quoted Mahathir saying that he supports the stricter regulation of the Internet. On August 1, 2014, he repeated this line and justified his proposal to censor the Internet through his popular blog.
Mahathir began by explaining why he is backtracking on his earlier pledge to keep the Internet free from censorship.
Not knowing the power of the Internet, I promised that we would not censor it. But today I have changed my mind…I have done so because the players, including those controlling the servers have been applying their own censorship of what can appear in this alternative media [sic]. I myself have suffered from such censorship.
Mahathir claimed that a July 24 blogpost he wrote about Jewish people and Israel's attacks on Gaza has been “prevented from being linked to Facebook without any explanation.” The post referenced the Holocaust and accused Jewish people today of “behaving worse than Nazis, not caring at all for the sufferings and deaths they inflict upon others.” At the time of publication, Global Voices could not determine the veracity of this claim.
Mahathir also said that his blog has been rejected and blocked by various blog and web hosting platforms and that it is being continually targeted by spam and virus attacks.
He condemned blogging platforms, social media sites, and hosting services for exercising control over content posted by their users.
The internet is not the free alternative to the state-controlled print and electronic media it is touted to be. It is subject to even more censorship than Governments could exercise. The people who [host] these platforms and servers can censor. And various other means are available to the powerful controllers of the new media for them to censor in the interest of their politics.
Paradoxically, Mahathir cited these examples to support his argument that the Internet needs more regulation and control by governments. He then argued that the Internet is less free than mainstream media, which is under state regulation in Malaysia:
There is no freedom of the alternative media. Governments and the owners of servers and platforms and assorted others can censor the alternative media. It is actually less free than print and electronic media operating under Government licences.
I think it is time we stop talking of the freedom of the press. Let us admit that the press needs to be censored. It needs to be censored because freedom, any kind of freedom will always be open to abuse. The worst abuses are in the field of morality.
Mahathir bemoaned the fact that children can easily access porn and that they are not safe from online sexual assault. He also criticized the growing acceptance of LGBT people whom he called the ‘indeterminate’ and ‘abnormal’ sex.
To protect the children and the public, Mahathir argued that that it is time to censor the Internet:
Incest, child sex, sex with animals, sexual parties, sex in public and many other practices which we still feel are wrong will soon be a part of the expression of freedom and equality. All these will promoted on the internet.
I don’t care how sacred is freedom but I think the time has come for Governments, at least the Malaysian Government to censor the internet.
Mahathir’s contention that his post was blocked by Facebook is indeed a cause for concern but his proposed remedy – the absolute censorship of the web – is alarmist, draconian, and a backward approach to advocating for a safer Internet. He should recall the bill he signed in 1999 which laid down a framework illustrating why the Internet must remain open and free for the benefit of society.
Mahathir’s blog article triggered widespread discussion and was also reported on by global media. Malaysiakini, a Malaysia-based alternative media platform, compiled some of the comments by their readers. Ian2003 reminded Mahathir that in Malaysia, bloggers do not only face censorship but also legal persecution:
At least his blog is blocked due to real sedition and unsubstantiated defamation but in our own country, anything that is against the government and especially if it is the truth it'll not only be blocked but the writer would be charged as well either for sedition or be detained to ‘protect’ him or her.
J Ng asserted that there are greater benefits in maintaining a free and open Internet:
Dissemination of untruth has been the norms of our mainstream media in Malaysia. It is a fact that digital information has bought about certain negative social behaviour but the positives far outweigh the negatives.
At Malaysian Insider, a reader named MYY98000 wrote that censoring the web will be more disastrous for Malaysia:
I'm glad Dr. Mahathir is no longer our PM, and it's highly unlikely that he'll ever be voted back into the office. Instead of playing the role of a wise elder statesman, he continuously spews irrational rhetoric on how the country should be run. Times have clearly changed and the access to free information shouldn't be stymied. Censoring the Internet is akin to putting a cap over a volcano's vent, the pressure would eventually blow the lid off and cause more devastation.
Meanwhile, a member of an opposition party described Mahathir’s proposal as “an act of anti-democracy, dictatorship and was tyrannical, and it should be protested by all.”
Mahathir may be retired, but his views are respected and accepted by the leading members of the ruling coalition. His proposal to censor the web should be seen as a credible threat to online freedom — and a call to action for all Malaysians who want to protect the open Internet in their country.