Abandon plans to amend CMA, groups tell gov’t

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As the bill to amend the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) is set to be tabled in the current parliamentary sitting, various human rights groups have urged the government to abandon its plans to do so.

The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) in a statement today called on the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in particular to abandon its proposals that threaten online freedom.

The commission should instead adopt greater transparency in carrying out its mandate and policy objectives, said the group.

“If the government is adamant in tabling in Parliament its proposed amendments to the CMA, Hakam urges the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to disclose any proposed bill with sufficient time for civil society to give its views prior to the bill being considered and debated in Parliament.”

The group also pointed out how the planned amendments to the CMA have not been made public.

“Hakam fears that the proposed amendments will most likely have the effect of further stifling freedom of speech online,” said Hakam, citing how the government had interfered with freedom of speech in the last two years.

Last year, a total of 1,263 websites were blocked by the MCMC while the first two months of this year saw 399 websites being blocked.

Although Hakam admitted that websites dealing with vice such as porn, prostitution and gambling were legitimately blocked, it lamented MCMC’s lack of transparency to justify blocking other websites.

Meanwhile, a coalition made up of civil society organisations urged all lawmakers to reject the expected amendments to the CMA.

“We are concerned that the proposed amendments are politically motivated with the sole purpose of imposing legal restrictions on the public’s right to access to political information and to freedom of expression.

“It is believed that the amended provisions would give the MCMC more powers to take down online content without proper oversight.”

Lamenting the lack of consultation on the government’s part with stakeholders, the group pointed out how the public will be most affected by the proposed amendments.

“We agree that the laws governing the internet need to be reviewed for them to have stronger provisions for privacy and protections for freedom of expression.

“But these are not being prioritised; instead we see a pattern of reviewing laws to extend the powers of the executive to conveniently target the media, political opponents and individuals critics.”

The statement was jointly issued by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower), Hakam, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), Sinar Project, Cilisos, Amnesty International-Malaysia, Lawyers for Liberty and Pusat Komas.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), meanwhile, expressed “grave concerns” over the proposal to amend the CMA.

“We believe that these amendments will have the impact of worsening the human rights situation on the ground for women.”

The proposed amendments, the group said, will not address violence, discrimination and misogyny faced by women online.

“They will instead add to the threats faced by women who are speaking out on issues that matter to them, from democratic governance to the GST to their life choices,” said the group.

Citing Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak who had assured that the amendments were not intended to ‘restrict the people’s freedoms’, the government should therefore release the full text of the proposed amendments, said JAG.

“JAG urges the government to halt the tabling of the amendments until open and participatory consultations can be held with different and diverse stakeholders, including civil society organisations, to comprehensively examine the impact of the proposed amendments.

“There is no reason why the tabling of the CMA amendments cannot be delayed pending a public consultation, and a clearer definition of what harms these are meant to curtail,” it said.

 

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