JULY 20 — The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) challenges the actions of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in blocking access to website Sarawak Report.
Blocking a website is a serious restriction on freedom of expression and can only legitimately be done under specific, narrowly defined and necessary circumstances.
There must be a legitimate purpose – whether for national security, public order, or public morality – which is clearly outlined and disclosed. The blocking must also be done via a legitimate law and must be proportionate to the means they intend to achieve.
In this case, MCMC has merely stated that access to Sarawak Report has been blocked as it has violated sections 211 and 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).
Those sections state the offence of posting offensive content on the internet and the penalties that a court may impose if a person or content provider is found guilty. In this case, MCMC appears to have assumed the role of prosecutor and judge and found Sarawak Report guilty of an offence under the CMA without a prosecution or a court finding.
MCMC has also stated that the site is being blocked under section 263(2) of the CMA. The section states that a licensee shall assist MCMC, upon a written request, in preventing the commission of any offence in Malaysia. The section quoted does not appear to give MCMC any powers to block content upon the internet.
For any restriction on the guaranteed right of freedom of expression to be legitimate, it must firstly be authorised by a specific law. There must also be adequate provision for a website that has been blocked to appeal and challenge the decision of MCMC.
The blocking of Sarawak Report without a clear, legitimate purpose and without reference to a proper law authorising such blocking of content is a breach of the guarantee to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. A 2011 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression views the blocking of content on the internet gravely.
CIJ is also deeply concerned that there is a further clamp down on the discussion around a critical public interest issue which negates the public’s ability to find out information, debate and form important opinions. CIJ renews its calls for a focus on investigating the actual issues at hand, and rejects further regulation and censorship on the internet as a way to manage the issue.
CIJ calls on the MCMC to respect the right to freedom of expression and to cease its blocking of Sarawak Report. If indeed sections 211 and 233 of the CMA have been breached, a case could be brought against Sarawak Report and they should not be arbitrarily blocked without being given an opportunity to defend themselves.
Jac Kee and Sonia Randhawa
* This is the personal opinion of the writer
MCMC confirms Sarawak Report blocked until 1MDB probe complete
KUALA LUMPUR, July 19 — The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) confirmed that it has blocked Sarawak Report’s website pending an investigation on 1Malaysia Development Bhd.
MCMC Strategic Communications senior director Sheikh Raffie Abdul Rahman said the agency sent out instruction to Internet service providers today to block access to the site.
“Yes we have proceeded with limiting the access to the site.
“We have issued the instructions to all service providers,” he told Malay Mail Online.
In a press release issued by MCMC later, it said it has decided to block websites that can “threaten the country’s stability” with contents that “cannot be verified and is being investigated”, after it received “information and complaints from the public”.
These include the UK-based Sarawak Report.
The government regulatory body said the move is provided for under Section 211 and 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and the period of the block is temporary until the special task force ends its investigations.
It also issued a reminder to the public not to disseminate information without verifying their authenticity.
Sarawak Report became unreachable from Malaysia today.
When contacted earlier, Sarawak Report founder Clare Rewcastle Brown said the block is only in Malaysia and it is still accessible in the UK.
“We are getting lots of reports from Malaysia that we are blocked, but there are a few readers online at the moment.
“So we suspect some service providers are blocking but not all.
“We are still looking into it,” she said over e-mail.
The block has not yet been enforced by all service providers as the website s still accessible via Digi and Unifi.
1MDB is being investigated by a multi agency task force.
- Blocking Sarawak Report breaches constitutional freedoms, say groups [20 Jul 2015]
- Dubious to block Sarawak Report without clear justification, MCMC told [20 Jul 2015]
- ‘Government responsibility’ to block Sarawak Report, minister says amid backlash [20 Jul 2015]
- Sarawak Report thumbs nose at Malaysian censors, says won’t be muzzled [20 Jul 2015]
- MCMC confirms Sarawak Report blocked to maintain ‘national stability’ [19 Jul 2015]
- MCMC blocks access to Sarawak Report website [19 Jul 2015]