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Internet filtering plans intensify censorship

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) views with concern the plans afoot to filter the internet to block so-called undesirable websites, as reported in the local media. This is a clear violation of the commitment made in the promotion of the Multimedia Super Corridor and the Bill of Guarantees that ensures no censorship of the internet. Any form of control or filtering is a violation of freedom of speech, as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

The Malaysian Insider, an online news portal, reported on 6 August 2009 that a call for tender has been issued to companies to submit proposals to assist the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to evaluate the feasibility of an internet filter.

The news report also stated that the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture expects the study to be completed by December 2009 and a decision will be made by the National Security Council headed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Internet control is not new in Malaysia. Among those who have faced investigations and court actions, website closure and government censure are bloggers Raja Petra Kamaruddin, Jeff Ooi, Nathanial Tan, Jed Yoong, Syed Abidi Syed Aziz, Abdul Rashid Bakar and others. The reasons usually involve allegedly seditious content, but civil society groups have described the wave of persecution as a denial of the right to political expression. This year, eight people were also charged under the Communications and Multimedia Act for posting comments against the members of the royal family in Perak, north of the capital, following the political crisis in the state.

The real beneficiary of control of information and expression over the internet or any other forms of media, is the ruling party in power. Reports by local and international human rights organizations point to the deliberate attempts by the Barisan Nasional government to target online spaces, which host a range of critical views on governance, transparency, accountability and maladministration. In this regard, any moves to institutionalize filtering will be seen as strengthening the executive's powers in controlling content online.

CIJ calls on the government to drop its plans and instead focus on education and awareness of the internet technology and on increasing citizens' access to such facilities. CIJ also calls upon the Minister responsible, Dr Rais Yatim, to make public the parties involved in the study and the extent of civil society and public participation as CIJ is concerned that civil society voices are absent in this process.

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