Halt threats to press freedom, gov't told

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Non-governmental organisations have called on the government to halt its threats to press freedom as well as to the freedom of expression online.

In a joint statement today, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) denounced the reforms the government aims to implement to require online news portals in Malaysia to be registered.

Their condemnation comes after the announcement by newly-appointed Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak on the matter earlier this month.

"This will empower the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block sites deemed as 'threats to national security and stability', contributing to the crackdown on free expression in Malaysia," the NGOs said.

Although Salleh ( photo ) had said on Monday that the proposed reforms are in response to issues such as pornography, online gambling and Islamic State (IS) threats, the groups said they must be viewed within the current political environment in Malaysia - where freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association have been under attack.

"It is highly unlikely that this move is intended for anything other than shutting down criticism and bringing into line what is left of the free press.

"The current legal and political environment in Malaysia is one in which repressive laws keep getting worse, including by targeting online activity," they said.

Since 2008, the groups noted, the government has increasingly turned to regulation of the Internet as a means to stifle dissent, through the passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), amendments to the Sedition Act and the increasing use of Section 124 of the Penal Code.

"... It is virtually certain that online news portals will self-censor; they already face the threat of the Sedition Act and other laws," the NGOs said, citing the blocking of the Sarawak Report website as well as the suspension of The Edge publications.

"The proposed registration of online portals mirrors and misguided legislation requiring that print publications apply for a permit are in themselves repressive."

Stressing that the government is obliged to protect freedom of expression, the groups reminded the people that attempts by governments to restrict and censor Internet content are incompatible with obligations under international human rights law.

"In the face of police and government crackdowns and revelations that the Malaysian government purchased spyware, a free media is more important than ever to bring the authorities to account for their actions," the NGOs said.

 

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