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Malaysia 4 December 2006

Government signals crackdown on bloggers

Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm that Malaysia could introduce repressive legislation on the Internet after Science and Technology Minister, Kong Cho Ha, said the government planned new rules to block its malicious use and prevent bloggers posting news jeopardising social harmony.

“The government of Abdullah Badawi seems to want to impose on the Internet the same strict controls that it already applies to the press,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Malaysian bloggers currently enjoy an outspokenness denied to journalists in the traditional media. It is vital for the country’s democratic life that the Internet is not pushed into self-censorship. “

The minister made his statement at an event on 3 December 2006 organised by the Association of the Computer and Multimedia Industry, Malaysia (Pikom) in which he made clear his determination to regulate news put out by bloggers.

“We are talking about creating cyber laws to control those who misuse the Internet,” he said. “We need to have stricter cyber laws to prevent these bloggers from disseminating disharmony, chaos, seditious material and lies. We want our bloggers to be responsible.” His statements were all the more surprising given that Internet regulation usually comes under the Energy, Water and Communications ministry.

The government is also planning to get bloggers to register with the information ministry. Even though Kong Cho Ha admitted that the system would be difficult to apply, it could nevertheless push Malaysian bloggers daring to criticise the government to stop publishing or self-censor.

The government frequently says that it does not impose any censorship on electronic media. However, in practice, harassment has been stepped up against the only independent online daily, and there has been an increase in threatening statements aimed at pushing its managers into self-censorship.

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