Cyberspace crackdown begins

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 — The crackdown against bloggers has started.

A day after The Malaysian Insider reported that the government was going to come down hard on owners of blogs and news portals, all 21 Internet service providers (ISPs) in the country blocked the Malaysia Today website.

The Star reported that the ISPs were acting under a directive of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

The notices were sent out on Tuesday in accordance with Section 263 of the Communications and Multimedia Act.

“This means that MCMC is allowed to block any particular website which has committed acts that contravene the local laws of the country, for example, sedition,” a source told the newspaper.

This move is going to put the government in the firing line. Critics are going to argue that the MCMC’s action contravenes Section 3 of the Act which prohibits any censorship of the Internet.

Also, when the government launched the Multimedia Super Corridor, it promised not to allow any censorship of the Internet.

The Malaysian Insider reported on Tuesday that the need to rein in bloggers was discussed at a high-level meeting involving ministers and senior government officials last week.

The consensus among the government officials was that if nothing was done to counter the gush of accusations and allegations against Barisan Nasional leaders, the ruling coalition will face the real prospect of losing the next general elections.

According to their reasoning, some 400,000 new voters are registered every year. With next general election scheduled for 2013, BN will face two million new voters the next time it seeks a mandate from the Malaysian public.

The bulk of the new voters are in their 20s and their No. 1 source of information is likely to be the Internet. Their opinions about the country and its leaders are going to be shaped by what they read on new websites and blogs.

It is understood that an MCMC official at the meeting pointed out that the authorities had adopted a light touch approach because they were mindful of the government’s guarantee of not censoring the Internet.

But ministers and senior civil servants challenged this view, noting that action can be taken for offences under the Sedition Act and defamation.

That the Malaysia Today website was targeted is not surprising given the running battle between its owner, Raja Petra Kamarudin, and several prominent personalities, including Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak and his wife.

Raja Petra has alleged repeatedly that Najib and Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor were involved in the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu, a charge which the DPM and his wife have vehemently denied.

Supporters of Najib have been pushing for tougher action to be taken against Raja Petra and his ilk, arguing that the same rules which bind the mainstream media should be applied on the alternative media.

This view is catching on in a government which is at a loss on how to counter the influence of blogs and websites.


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