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Accused of 'bullying' a minister, lawyer drags MCMC to court for blocking content

Shamsher Singh Thind is the latest to find himself blocked for criticising government leaders.

3 minute read
For questioning Selangor's dealing with a company owned by a minister's husband, Shamsher Singh Thind is accused of cyber-bullying.
For questioning Selangor's dealing with a company owned by a minister's husband, Shamsher Singh Thind is accused of cyber-bullying.

A lawyer who criticised the Selangor government's choice of a company owned by the husband of a DAP leader and minister is taking legal action against the government after his Facebook post was blocked, in the latest in a series of attempts by authorities to suppress online dissent.

Shamsher Singh Thind will be filing a judicial review against the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), an agency under the communications ministry led by Fahmi Fadzil that frequently blocks online posts critical of Putrajaya.

According to Shamsher, he was told by MCMC that his post criticising Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh was a form of "cyberbullying".

"I do not know who lodged what complaint (if any) against me. I was never investigated for cyberbullying Hannah Yeoh.

"In any event, I was not given an opportunity to defend myself. The act of restricting my post in Malaysia is tantamount to me being punished without the due process of the law," he told MalaysiaNow.

Shamsher had earlier sent a notice to MCMC for obstructing freedom of speech.

This followed the "geo restriction" on his Facebook post in which he had commented on the issue involving Yeoh. As a result, the post is inaccessible to users in Malaysia unless they use a VPN tool to bypass censorship.

Shamsher said he was informed by Facebook that the restriction was at the request of MCMC.

Hannah Yeoh and husband Ramachandran Muniandy.
Hannah Yeoh and husband Ramachandran Muniandy.

In a letter to his counsel, MCMC said Shamsher had posted comments which were "not constructive" and amounted to "cyberbullying" of Yeoh.

"At the time your client's message was made, there were other messages on Facebook that published insulting statements with the intention of harassing and bullying (in cyberspace) Hannah Yeoh, who is the person named in all those messages.

"Your client's post is seen as defamatory to a specific individual who is a federal minister and has no intention of creating a healthy discussion, discourse or debate," read the MCMC letter sighted by MalaysiaNow.

Yeoh became a target following the revelation that the Pakatan Harapan-led Selangor government had bypassed the open tender process in appointing Asia Mobiliti Sdn Bhd, a company owned by her husband Ramachandran Muniandy, to carry out a pilot project for the state's demand-responsive transit.

Shamsher, a former DAP member, said MCMC should comply with the laws related to the internet.

"MCMC needs to be reminded that Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act prohibits internet censorship," he added.

Following the restriction, Shamsher had questioned whether MCMC acted based on instructions from Deputy Communications Minister Teo Nie Ching.

Teo had defended her DAP colleague against calls for her resignation.

Last Friday, Shamsher joined political activists and social media influencers in staging a silent protest outside the MCMC headquarters.

Former Wangsa Maju MP Wee Choo Keong also filed a judicial review against MCMC after the agency blocked access to his blog.

Since the formation of the coalition government led by Anwar Ibrahim in November 2022, MCMC has frequently blocked websites as well as asked social platforms such as TikTok, Facebook and YouTube to delete content critical of the authorities.

Earlier this year, Teo admitted that the government through MCMC had asked TikTok to take down video clips.

So far, only TikTok appears to have met MCMC's requests, while platforms such as X and YouTube have repeatedly refused the government's request to take down content, in line with their policy on free speech.

The government's suppression of criticism in addition to its attempts to scuttle free speech resulted in Malaysia taking a record dip in the World Press Freedom Index, dropping 34 places from 73rd spot to 107th this year.

Anwar however dismissed the annual index prepared by global media freedom monitor Reporters Without Borders, saying restrictions were made to defend royal institutions and curb hate speech.

In June last year, MalaysiaNow was blocked for 48 hours without any notice, while TV Pertiwi and Utusan TV had their websites blocked as well.