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FB obliges govt request to block post on PKR links with group that sympathised with Israel

Users in Malaysia are informed that they cannot view the post due to a 'legal request' to restrict content.

3 minute read
Screenshots of Facebook posts restricted for users in Malaysia, with a notice stating that the move is in compliance with a 'legal request'.
Screenshots of Facebook posts restricted for users in Malaysia, with a notice stating that the move is in compliance with a 'legal request'.

The government appears to have asked Facebook to block posts linked to PKR's involvement with Liberal International (LI), a London-based group at the heart of a storm over its sympathetic stand towards Israel in the wake of the ongoing conflict.

In one such case, several posts accompanied by screenshots and photographs questioning PKR's denial of association with the group were slapped with "content restrictions", a move by Facebook to oblige governments worldwide which cite local laws to censor content on the popular platform.

Mujahidin Zulkiffli, who frequently posts comments critical of the government, had shared several photographs showing former PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail at events organised by LI.

Clicks on his post however ended in a Facebook notice informing users that it was not available in Malaysia. 

"This is because we complied with a legal request to restrict this content," the notice said.

The post can only be viewed through the use of a virtual private network (VPN) service to bypass the block.

"I don't understand why PKR is vehemently denying its ties with Liberal International," Mujahidin had written in the post accompanied by several screenshots of Wan Azizah, who is Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's wife, participating in discussions organised by LI.

"Try zooming in on these photographs below from Liberal International. Look for a woman wearing tudung (there's only one of them). Am told it's your former deputy prime minister. I am not sure," added Mujahidin, who had served as a political secretary to former foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

It is understood that there is no avenue for appeal for restriction requests fulfilled by Facebook.

In the past, similar requests were made of X, formerly Twitter, by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the internet regulator under the communications and digital ministry headed by Fahmi Fadzil.

X has however turned down such requests, in keeping with its policy of free speech.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, Mujahidin described the censorship as "a new low".

"As a registered RSF member, I strongly feel this government is doing its best to bring truth telling to a new low," he said, referring to global media freedom monitor Reporters Without Borders which has condemned attempts by the current government to block websites and stifle online speech.

"I'd understand if my post touched on 3R issues, but this is merely highlighting some photos of a former party president on a website," he added.

The content restriction came after Fahmi, seen as the government's de facto information minister, threatened to take action against those who continued to link PKR with LI despite the group's own posts and reports showing close ties with the Pakatan Harapan component.

On Sunday, Fahmi announced that LI had fulfilled PKR's request to remove the party's logo from its site, before threatening legal action against those who continued linking it to the group.

LI, which brings together political parties around the world, describes itself as a federation of "liberal and progressive democratic political parties".

The group had supported Anwar during his imprisonment while questioning the country's judicial independence.

"The Liberal International family, together with our human rights committee, condemns this attempt to muzzle the opposition and will continue to give a voice to Mr Ibrahim (Anwar) and the millions of Malaysians he represents. 

"We applaud his courage and his stated will to 'never surrender'. We must continue to fight for justice in Malaysia and demand Mr Ibrahim's release," then LI president Juli Minoves had said after Anwar lost a Federal Court appeal against his sodomy conviction in 2015.

Fighting perception war

The latest move to censor Facebook posts has been seen by observers as part of efforts to fight the perception that Anwar has not been as vocal as his predecessors against Israel over its latest bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Many on social media had drawn comparisons with former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad, a strong critic of Western support for Israel who has repeatedly declared his support for Hamas, the Palestinian group which carried out a surprise attack on Israel on Oct 7.

The government recently held a rally to show its support for the Palestinian cause, although the event came under heavy criticism over its focus on Anwar.

"The way the pro-Palestine rally at Bukit Jalil was choreographed to showcase one man’s supposed role in standing up for Palestine and his achievements on the world stage was also in very poor taste," veteran diplomat Dennis Ignatius had said.

The prime minister was also criticised over his claim that he had been threatened by the West due to his stand against Israel – a development that turned out to be demarches issued by the US government to the Malaysian ambassador, a move which Ignatius said was normal in international diplomacy.