Cyberspace crackdown limited to Malaysia-Today website… for now

By Debra Chong and Shannon Teoh

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 — It looks like Malaysia-Today is the only target of the government’s sudden crackdown on blogosphere. So far.

“At the moment, even Anwar Ibrahim’s blog has been spared. So it seems to be Malaysia-Today only, you know,” its editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin, told The Malaysian Insider this morning.

The controversial blogger said that he was surprised by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission's (MCMC) order to 19 Internet service providers (ISPs) to block his website.

“Well, I expected them to do something, but I just didn’t know what they were going to do. But in Malaysia we’re always expecting to expect anything, you know what I mean?”

The 57-year-old explained that the authorities had gone to his house last Thursday and confiscated his computer. They had wanted to record his statement at police headquarters in Bukit Aman that week, but he informed them that he would be busy covering the hotly contested by-election in Permatang Pauh, Penang.

“They wanted me to report last week but I told them, nope, I’m going up to Permatang Pauh. If they want, they can come up to Permatang Pauh; so they said, no, they’d rather not. They’d rather not go into the ‘sarang tebuan’, to quote, unquote what they said-lah.

“So I said, it’s your choice. You either come to Permatang Pauh and interrogate me there, or you wait until after I come back. So they said, OK, after I come back,” he said. He returned from Penang yesterday and expects to be called up for police questioning in the next couple of days.

The news portal, wildly popular with politically-minded Malaysians and other followers of Malaysian political news, normally receives between 10 million and 15 million hits a day, he said.

Access to the website via its domain name system (DNS) www.malaysia-today.net has been barred since 6pm two days ago.

On the eve of polling day, however, its online traffic tripled, due to overwhelming worldwide interest in the by-election, which catapulted former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim back into Parliament, but this time as the opposition leader.

“I’d already said I’m going to start reporting the results as soon as they come in. And just as the results were coming in but before we were could even flash it onto the site, they blocked the site.

“So I suppose they wanted to make sure I couldn’t flash the early results until they were ready for the results to be announced,” said Raja Petra.

However, it was only a partial shutdown limited to Streamyx users. Raja Petra clarified that readers who are overseas and those who subscribe to other ISPs such as Maxis are still able to access the Malaysia-Today website normally.

He also managed to set up an alternative blog site at mt.harapanmalaysia.com and passed the word of the new DNS address through SMSes.

“Of course, many people don't know yet that there’s a new address they can go to. Our readership has declined to about half of what it normally is. People overseas can still access Malaysia-Today though.

“The fact that it was half the normal shows that a lot of the traffic is not coming through from Streamyx, and they are using Maxis or accessing from overseas,” said Raja Petra.

He believes that the MCMC will take further action soon and order all ISPs to block all access to his blog, contravening Section 3 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, which prohibits any censorship of the Internet.
Asked on his next course of action, Raja Petra replied: “What action can I take? I don’t think there’s any action I can take.”

Queried further if he was planning to lodge a complaint against the MCMC, he said: “Ahhh, no point. I get beaten up by the director of CID, I make a police report and nothing happens. I couldn’t even be bothered to enter a plea when they charged me in court. Anything involving government, I tak layan. They do what they want, I do what I want. I’m not co-operating with the government. Why should I want to write to the government?”

Whatever further action imposed by the MCMC will not deter him from writing and publishing what he deems to be the truth on the local political scene.

“I’ll just continue doing what I’m doing. I’ll just keep running around all over the world-lah, setting up new sites. The readers will just have to SMS each other to inform their friends and so on what’s the new addresses.”

Meanwhile, several ministers in Parliament today commented that they saw nothing excessive in this latest development.

Deputy Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum fired a salvo against the website.

“You should ask MT what is wrong with them? I don’t think the MCMC will just block any media,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

“Even if something is remotely sensitive, people may misinterpret what we think is proper. Issues of race and religion are normal basis for action,” he said.

However, he hurriedly added that he does not read the news on Malaysia-Today and had not been informed of the MCMC action. He deflected further questions, saying his superior, the minister, was in Bali at the moment but would be back for the tabling of the Budget tomorrow.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said that the MCMC was just “exercising their power under the Act”.

“I think the most important thing is everyone is subject to the law, even people operating on websites or blogs. We do not intend to curtail people’s freedom and right to give information or debate.

“But when you publish content that is libellous, defamatory, slanderous to other people, I think it is only natural, looking at their powers, in order to bring law and order within the country, to take action which they deem necessary,” he said.

He noted that the authorities had given many fair opportunities and warnings to bloggers, which have gone unheeded.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said that it was the government’s responsibility to take pre-emptive action against anything that could jeopardise the stability of the country.

“We have laws to ensure that no sensitive issues are raised. If the MCMC made that decision, it was made considering the welfare of the population of this country,” he said.

“There must be control, it cannot be complete freedom. You have to discuss behind closed doors, you know, we are multiracial. Sometimes, you bring up a matter and say you are sincere. But the perception of other groups is different,” he added.

“For example, I think it is foolish for the Bar Council to have a seminar or conference of which the title is ‘Conversion to Islam’. I expected them to have common sense. If you want to discuss sensitive things like this, why can’t you have a theme: ‘Problems of conversion in a multi-religious society?’ That’s clever, isn’t it? Then you can talk anything; you talk about conversion to Islam.

“In this country, it’s all about perception... Then nobody’s going to get angry. It’s not that you can’t discuss, but sensitive things, it’s better behind closed doors rather than openly,” Nazri elaborated.


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