Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Ministry has formally proposed legal amendments to the Attorney General that would require the country's political blogs and online news portals to register with the government. Minister Salleh Said Keruak denies that the legislation amounts to censorship, arguing that the proposal is designed to preserve the Internet as a tool for promoting Malaysia's economic growth, and meant to protect the country against internal divisions brought about by misleading information published online, he says.
Human rights groups and media freedom advocates denounced the proposal as a curtailment of free speech, saying the move reverses the government's earlier stated commitment to promoting Internet freedom.
Critics of Malaysia's ruling political party say the push to force political blogs to register with the state is a desperate tactic meant to silence dissent. Since last year, the government has struggled against a corruption scandal that's sparked mass protests across the country. Internet users, including bloggers, are some of the prime minister's most vocal detractors, accusing him of ill-gotten gains in several dubious transactions. State censors have already blocked a handful of news websites for reporting allegedly ”unverified” information about the corruption issue.
Many bloggers who fear the proposed amendments recall recent comments by the communications minister, who said Internet freedom is a privilege, not a right, and is something the government can curtail.:
…freedom of speech and the expressing of one’s opinion is almost taken for granted. What we sometimes forget, however, is that this must be treated as a privilege rather than an absolute right. And privileges, if abused, can sometimes be withdrawn.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, critics rallied around the hashtag #BiarlahBlog (Let Blogs Be), standing against mandatory registration for political blogs in Malaysia. The legislation's opponents say the amendments don't specify what constitutes a “political blog,” and warn that the new restrictions could be widely damaging to Internet use in Malaysia. Twitter users are calling on the government to reconsider its plan, and instead conduct public consultations, before trying to revise the amendments any further.
Below are some of the points raised by activists, journalists, lawyers, teachers, and bloggers about the issue:
Clearly we have a problem with the definition of “blog” and even “political content”. Can the govt weave such a huge net? #BiarlahBlog
— CIJ Malaysia (@CIJ_Malaysia) April 21, 2016
My blog has information about birds. Birds in forest. Forest being cut down. We protest. My bird blog is political #BiarlahBlog
— Gayathry V (@gayathry) April 21, 2016
Registration will force removal of anonymity – key to expression, esp by vulnerable communities. Big violation #BiarlahBlog @CIJ_Malaysia
— jac smk (@jhybe) April 21, 2016
#BiarlahBlog can’t understand motivation. Surely we also have existing laws to protect from defamation etc. sounds politically-motivated.
— Niki Cheong (@nikicheong) April 21, 2016
We already have rules in place to handle ‘sedition’ & libel so why add more hoops to jump through? #BiarlahBlog
— Erna Mahyuni (@ernamh) April 21, 2016
Govt should focus on good governance, not whether political blogs, websites are bad mouthing them. #BiarlahBlog
— Eric Paulsen (@EricPaulsen101) April 21, 2016
How am I going to encourage my students to write if every single word is being watched? #BiarlahBlog
— Ying Hooi (@khooyinghooi) April 21, 2016
Mere words may result in blocked sites if political blog registration prevails.Upping the ante to suppress #foe unacceptable #BiarlahBlog
— AI Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) April 21, 2016