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Lawyer urges legal action for media outlets under block

Rafique Rashid questions the freedom of speech in Malaysia following the recent string of restrictions.

2 minute read
Some of the sites recently blocked have been confirmed as under restriction by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.
Some of the sites recently blocked have been confirmed as under restriction by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.

A lawyer has called for legal action against the government after several news portals and social media accounts were reportedly blocked without explanation in the lead-up to last weekend's state elections and beyond. 

Rafique Rashid said those who felt they had become the subject of restrictions should file a judicial review in court. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said even in the event that regulations, sensitivities or laws had been violated, an investigation should be carried out instead of restrictions. 

"What is troubling is the uncaring attitude of the communications and digital minister, Fahmi Fadzil, and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)," he added, referring to the internet regulator under the jurisdiction of Fahmi's ministry. 

"It appears that the action taken so far has been unilateral or punitive, without the right for parties not only to give opinions, but also to defend themselves." 

MalaysiaNow came under a 48-hour block in late June while access to the MalaysiaToday website, run by prominent blogger and government critic Raja Petra Kamarudin, was also restricted around the same time. 

MCMC has yet to respond to MalaysiaNow's repeated queries for an explanation, while Fahmi, who likewise ignored all questions from MalaysiaNow, was reported as saying that no orders were given for the block of any news portal.

The blog of former MP Wee Choo Keong meanwhile was blocked on June 24. Online freedom monitor Sinar Project later confirmed that it had been blocked by MCMC. 

Current affairs site UtusanTV was also blocked by MCMC, although it is understood that restrictions were lifted before the state elections on Aug 12. 

Meanwhile, the TikTok account of TV Pertiwi was permanently banned on Aug 15 – a move questioned by the local media outlet which said that the same content was also carried on its Facebook and YouTube platforms. 

Rafique questioned the freedom of expression in Malaysia, saying the blocking of news portals and social media for only some affected the people's right to exchange opinions in a democratic country. 

"Where is the space for them to criticise government policies?" he said. 

"Is criticism not allowed as long as it is done in accordance with the law?"

He also said that the government was sending a message to media practitioners and social media users not to criticise its administration, voicing concern that Malaysia under the leadership of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim would eventually head towards a "police state".

"Before coming to power, they said loud and clear that reforms included the freedom of speech and media freedom. 

"But the same ones who championed this are the ones imposing these kinds of laws. That is the funniest thing of all." 

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