The people must be vigilant over the possibility of the government imposing further censorship after it blocked news portal The Malaysian Insider (TMI) yesterday, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) cautions.
"Malaysians should be very concerned with the increased cases of Internet censorship by the government in recent months, signalling worse days ahead for freedom of expression and information in Malaysia.
"We ask that Internet users in Malaysia be vigilant of further restrictions online, as it can impact access to vital information and possibly even lead to increase in cost of accessing information and technology," CIJ said in a statement yesterday.
It also urged the people to help pressure the government not to introduce any new policies or revise existing laws concerning the Internet until the current restrictions are overturned and inclusive consultations are held.
"This includes any amendment to the Communications and Multimedia Act (1998), reportedly to be tabled in Parliament next month.
"Until this takes place, Internet users in Malaysia can expect the walls to close in further on freedom of expression and information as the country heads toward the 14th general election," CIJ said.
'Intensified effort to shut down dissenting views'
It noted the block on TMI followed similar censorship against regional news site Asia Sentinel , publishing platform Medium.com for an article by whistleblower publication Sarawak Report , and socio-political blogs OutSyed The Box, Din Turtle and Minaq Jingo.
"The government’s recent actions appear to be part of a concerted and intensified effort to shut down dissenting views, particularly those questioning the integrity and leadership of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
"We are troubled the government has not issued any explanation on its recent actions.
"There seems to be no transparency in the government’s processes, providing no specific information on laws contravened or even the possibility of appeal," it said.
CIJ called on Najib to address the issues raised by the blocked publications, instead of censoring them.
"The Internet is central to Malaysia’s democracy and should be used to promote transparency and accountability, including by the government," it said.
Meanwhile, media groups Gerakan Media Marah (Geramm) and Institute of Journalism (IOJ) also condmened the blocking imposed on the TMI website.
"Time and time again it shows that the powers-that-be decided to use their powers without even considering better and fairer alternatives.
"Clamping news publications is directly the opposite of a healthy democracy.
"If a report is lodged, there are enough existing provisions in the law to act, without resorting to blocking access to the website," Geramm said in a statement.
The IOJ described the block as a "knee-jerk" reaction by the government.
"Such unilateral action can also be construed as an attempt to intimidate the media against running critical news reports.
"The IOJ reiterates its position that any party, be it a government agency or private entity, should exercise its right of reply and explain its side of the story on any issue in order to meet its obligations to public interest.
"The Institute maintains that the press can only function in the public interest if it has the independence to report without fear or favour," it said.