Group wants to see proposed Internet laws before Parliament debate

Just last year alone, a total of 1,263 websites were blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. — File pic
Just last year alone, a total of 1,263 websites were blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) today urged the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to allow civil society to view its proposed amendments to Internet laws here before tabling them to the Dewan Rakyat.

In a statement, Hakam secretary-general Robyn Choi noted that the amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 have yet to be publicly revealed but were due for tabling in the current parliamentary meeting.

“Hakam fears that the proposed amendments will most likely have the effect of further stifling freedom of speech online through the usual means of (a) regulating online content; (b) licensing and registration requirements for news providers and bloggers; (c) additional enforcement powers; (d) widening the range of offences; and (e) imposing stiffer fines and harsher penalties for existing offences,” Choi said.

She claimed that over the past two years, Putrajaya has already been interfering with free speech through the increased blocking of media websites, the intensified questioning and arrests of activists, journalists, lawyers and even cartoonists over online content, as well as the passing of tougher laws regulating online expression.

Just last year alone, a total of 1,263 websites were blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) while between January and February this year, a further 399 sites were blocked and 22 people called for questioning, Choi added.

She said Hakam recognises that websites dealing with vice like porn, prostitution and gambling were among those blocked but said there was no transparency on the part of the MCMC on the reasons for blocking sites due to news content.

“The climate of fear and censorship created by the government in cyberspace does not bode well for the 20 million Malaysian internet users, internet technology companies and their investors, the Internet Service Providers, media groups and online businesses,” Choi said.

He expressed Hakam’s call on the government to abandon entirely all plans or proposals to “threaten” online freedom.

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

Last week, minister Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Salleh Said Keruak gave his assurance that Putrajaya’s planned changes to the CMA were only to cater to technological changes and not to restrict freedom of speech.

The communications and multimedia minister added that the proposal was a response to calls by the media industry in need of guidance to navigate the evolution caused by the Internet and social media.

Contents of the proposed amendments have not been made public, though Putrajaya had previously announced plans to revamp the Act to afford the authorities more control over social media and online news portals.

The new amendments have also been rumoured to include harsher sentences and restrictions on social media users in posting comments or opinions online.

Salleh also chairs the  Special Committee to Combat Abuse of Social Media which was set up in January, comprising the Royal Malaysia Police, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.