March 2, 2016
Sue M C Commission
by Ista Kyra Sharmugam
The Malaysian Insider Chief Executive Officer Jahabar Sadiq and four other journalists had their statements recorded at the Bukit Aman Police Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Friday over a report on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s operations review panel. – The Malaysian Insider pic, March 2, 2016.
Websites blocked by the Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) without an official court order can challenge the ban with a judicial review, lawyers say in light of recent bans on blogs and a news portal.
This is since the main law used to regulate online content, the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), does not allow the agency to block arbitrarily online content without first going to court.
They said MCMC must first prove in a court of law that a website had breached the CMA before it could be banned, said Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen.
“There was no due process as they just decided one fine day that they would block a legitimate online news site.MCMC is acting beyond its powers and behaving like the Prime Minister’s personal online bodyguard, protecting him from critical online news,” Paulsen said when contacted.
Another lawyer, H.R. Dipendra said the CMA was silent on whether MCMC has powers to block unilaterally websites. On February 25, access to The Malaysian Insider was blocked by government-linked telecommunication companies Unifi and Celcom on instruction by MCMC.
Access to the site was still available on the Maxis and DiGi networks until February 27 when all Malaysian telcos enforced the block. The agency claimed TMI breached Section 233 of the CMA which deals with the improper use of network facilities and services.
But Communications and Multimedia Minister Dato’ Seri Salleh Said Keruak later said TMI was blocked because it had “caused confusion” with its report quoting a source from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s operations review panel about investigations into Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak.
Even before the block on TMI, however, MCMC banned access to blogs, such as such as Syed Outside the Box, Tabunginsider, jingo-fotopages and Din Turtle late last month.
Other sites it has blocked are UK-based whistle-blower website Sarawak Report and local news and opinion aggregator Malaysian Chronicle. It has also blocked publishing platform Medium which carried an article by Sarawak Report on Najib.
Paulsen said sites affected by the ban could file a judicial review as the agency has acted beyond its powers.
“The only way is to challenge the decision in court through judicial review,” he said.
Another lawyer, Yusmadi Yusof, urged TMI to create a legal precedent by filing a judicial review.
“The Malaysian Insider should lead the way by doing so. This will give a chance for a correct interpretation of the law to be applied through the courts.”
Yusmadi said MCMC’s clampdown amounted to censorship and contradicted Putrajaya’s commitment to transparency when it signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
“They are joining TPPA as if they are ready to embrace international law, but this type of blocking on the Internet shows they are not ready for criticism or dissent and do not understand right to reply.It reflects a more authoritarian regime which is not going to fly in the future.”