Today Access joined Article 19, APC, and Human Rights Watch in a letter to Prime Minister Najib denouncing the blocking of Sarawak Report and the revocation of publishing permits. The letter (PDF) also warned against imposing further restrictions on mass protests planned for this weekend.
The letter follows weeks of work by Access to pressure telcos and ISPs to push back against the website blocking and publishing restrictions, and to help Malaysian users circumvent the filtering.
The internet blocking violates international law protecting the right to freedom of expression, and contradicts Prime Minister Najib Razak’s own promise never to censor the internet. The measures may also run afoul of domestic law: while the legislative statute for the Malaysian Communications and Media Commission (MCMC), the 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act, allows for penalties regarding certain forms of content, it does not provide for actual blocking of websites or other types of prior restraint.
The coalition letter outlines the legal protection individuals are afforded in Malaysia under national and international law, and calls on the government to:
- protect the right to protest in Malaysia, in particular to facilitate the Bersih 4.0 events;
- revoke its blocking order on Sarawak Report and websites it deems encouraging people to take to the streets, such as bersih.org, and refrain from further website blocking;
- lift the suspensions of the Edge Media’s publishing permits, and repeal all registration requirements for media entities and any power to suspend or ban publications;
- revoke its arrest warrant for Sarawak Report’s founder Clare Rewcastle-Brown;
- ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the optional protocols thereto; and
- review all national laws governing freedom of expression and freedom of assembly to ensure their compliance with international human rights law.
However, rather than lift the restrictions, as civil society across the world have urged, the government doubled down on its campaign against free expression by threatening to disrupt electoral reform protests planned this weekend.
Rallies do not merit shutdowns
On August 29th and 30th, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs are planning to host a fourth Bersih rally (“clean” in Malay) to promote electoral reforms. Unfortunately, the Malay government has declared the rally illegal. The MCMC, which Access recently criticized for blocking Sarawak Report, announced that it will block websites that “promote, spread information and encourage people to join the Berish 4 demonstration.” To make matters worse, the military stands ready to intervene if the government declares a state of emergency (see The Guardian’s backgrounder here).
Public protests do not justify the blocking of websites or disruption of the internet, and Access will continue to fight to keep the internet on. We urge the government of Malaysia to heed the recommendations of our letter. We’ll be watching.
You can download the joint letter here.
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