Global human rights movement Amnesty International has condemned the raid on Malaysiakini’s office yesterday by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
It said the raid is an "unwarranted attack" and an insult to the freedom of expression in Malaysia, and the latest example of the crackdown on independent media in the country.
“This is pure intimidation and harassment of journalists who have been targeted solely for peacefully doing their work, which is to report the news.
“It is no coincidence that this is news the Malaysian authorities would rather suppress,” Amnesty International’s office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific said in a statement today.
The six-member MCMC team confiscated two computers from the independent news portal during a four-hour raid the officers said was to facilitate an investigation under Section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) for “improper network use”.
This followed a complaint by the Attorney-General’s Chambers on two videos uploaded by KiniTV in July - one in Bahasa Malaysia and one in English - in which former Batu Kawan Umno vice-chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan’s press conference, held after he lodged a report on the 1MDB fiasco at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), were aired.
During the press conference, Khairuddin criticised attorney-general Mohd Apandi Ali and demanded his resignation for refusing to prosecute the 1MDB case.
The MCMC told KiniTV to remove both videos two months ago for allegedly breaching the CMA.
The online portal refused to take down the videos as it did not believe they were in violation of the CMA, but removed the word 'haprak' (northern Malay slang meaning 'worse than useless') used by Khairuddin to describe the AG, as a gesture of goodwill.
“We believe that there is nothing wrong with the rest of the contents of both videos and removing them will impinge on our duty as journalists in reporting issues of public interest.” Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan said yesterday.
In a related development, the International Federation of Journalist have urged the Malaysian authorities to support press freedom in the country.
"We strongly criticise the threats made against Malaysiakini, and the allegations of bias reporting.
"The media in Malaysia continues to face a number of challenges from state and non-state actors.
"Strong, independent media is an important cornerstone of society, and we call on the Malaysian authorities and governments to support Malaysia's media."
The portal also received support from human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) who called the raid "politically-motivated" and urged MCMC to stop any action against Malaysiakini.
"The use of CMA against an individual or organisation such as Malaysiakini for an online item made to cover or reflect information or statement made by another individual is simply absurd.
"This perverse line of logic suggests that a person can be ‘investigated’ for sharing a 3rd party’s comments and be penalised for that," its director Sevan Doraisamy said in a statement.
Expressing concern, the Institute of Journalists (IoJ) said Section 233 of the Act is also "vague in nature" and goes against the government's pledge not to censor the internet.
It said aggrieved parties can engage media organisations over disputes over news reports or take legal recourse through the civil courts instead of "intimidation".
"The use of criminal laws against news organisations for running stories of public interest is unacceptable and could be construed as an act of intimidation," it said in a statement.