The Cabinet has ordered the Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) to reinstate access to all blocked websites, including the controversial Malaysia Today news portal.
Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor said the order was made because there were other “harsher” laws in the country which the authorities could use to take action against the owners of blogs and websites, instead of blocking them.
“The Cabinet has asked the ministry to direct MCMC to reinstate access to any blocked website with immediate effect.
“At the same time, it is asking for MCMC to closely cooperate with the police, the Attorney-General’s Office and the Home Minister to monitor websites and blogs to ensure that they do not contain seditious, racist or religiously insensitive remarks.
“Instead of blocking access to such websites, the Cabinet wants authorities to investigate and act quickly against the owners of these sites,” he told reporters at a press conference which was also attended by MCMC chief operating officer Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi.
To monitor the content of websites and blogs hosted in Malaysia, Shaziman said that a committee comprising representatives from the A-G’s office, the police, and his ministry as well as the Home Ministry, had been set up two weeks ago.
The minister denied the Government had come under pressure from various groups, including former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and deputy Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin, who had criticised the blocking of Malaysia Today.
“We want to encourage the spreading of information via blogs and websites but at the same time, the owners must be responsible for their postings and content,” he said.
Last month, MCMC had instructed all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country to block access to Malaysia Today.
Since then various parties have slammed the move saying the action went against national commitments spelt out under MSC Malaysia’s Bill of Guarantees.
Shaziman said action would now be taken against the owners under diverse laws such as the Sedition Act, the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act, and even the Internal Security Act.
“In the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the Prime Minister informed the Home Ministry that detention under the ISA should be considered if the situation in the country had reached a dangerous and unacceptable level.
“This is important to preserve racial harmony,” he said.
On the police report lodged by the Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) and several Muslim bodies against Malaysia Today website editor Raja Petra Kamarudin for allegedly insulting the Malays, Muslims and Islam, Shaziman said police investigations on this matter were still ongoing.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar had earlier said the site was blocked because it showed no respect for religion.
Should not have happenedThe Cabinet’s decision received the thumbs-up from various groups, although some bloggers said the initial ban should not have happened in the first place.
Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin said he was not surprised with the “flip flop decision” and considered the whole situation as ridiculous.
“They have been contradicting themselves on whether to block or not to block, the decision makes no difference to me,” he said when contacted.
Raja Petra also said he would leave the old website as it is and those who wanted to access his website could continue to do so at http://mt.m2day.org/2008, which was set up after his initial website www.malaysia-today.net was blocked.
Blogger Ahirudin Attan, who runs the Rocky's Bru blog, said the lifting of the ban was great news but added that MCMC should be asked to explain why it blocked access in the first place.
“It is ridiculous to block a website as it can still be accessed via mirror sites.
“It also goes against the Government’s promise not to censor websites. The Government must renew its pledge and ensure this does not happen again,” he said.
Another blogger Oon Yeoh said reinstating access was a necessary move to “prevent a bad precedent from being set as justification for future crackdowns.”
He said it was not necessary to ban websites as there were enough laws to deal with libelous and seditious matters.
Meanwhile, lawyer Sonya Liew said one should be careful when making online statements as action could still be taken under present laws, especially if the statements were defamatory or seditious.
“Action can still be taken under the Sedition Act, the Defamation Act, the Penal Code and even the Communications and Multimedia Act, especially Section 233.
“The Acts are in place to safeguard individuals from harassment, including online harassment, and to also ensure the country’s stability.
“The Internet encourages freedom of speech, Where do we draw the line? The government must find a way to deal with this,” said Liew.
Section 233 of the Act deals with the “improper use of network facilities or network service and related to communication that is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person.”
The Star 11.09.08