Malaysia seen tightening restrictions on public discussions, online media

alerts-button-1.jpgMalaysian rights advocates are sounding the alarm over a perceived trend for tightening restrictions on free speech and free expression in the country.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) notes that the Malaysian Cabinet has recently directed the media not to report on issues of race and religion. At the same time, the Internal Security Ministry also announced plans to review the restrictive Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) to extend its jurisdiction to electronic media. These developments meanwhile follow a ban on public discussions about the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, as organised by a coalition known as Article 11.
CIJ, citing local media reports, said the Malaysian Cabinet said open discussions of religious matters should stop as they are sensitive.
For its part, the Internal Security Ministry said that amending the PPPA is needed because some online media have been inaccurate in their reports. It is not clear what form of control the government wants to implement via the PPPA, but CIJ expressed concerns that “an amended PPPA would contravene the repeated government assurances that the
Internet will not be censored. This guarantee is included in the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.”
CIJ said the Government “appears to have given in to intimidation by groups which were attempting to halt the forums (of Article 11). They have curbed the legitimate right to freedom of expression of Malaysians attempting to uphold the Constitution. They are also looking at rolling back moves to improve transparency and openness, by attempting to gain control over the Internet.” The CIJ thus called on the Government to “allow the forums, uphold the Constitution, and protect freedom of speech” over all forms of media.
The CIJ aims to improve current Malaysian journalism practice and independence through advocacy, research and analysis, training and practical work. Founded in 2001, CIJ has initiated various projects in developing grassroots communications skills through training, infrastructural support & direct action.
CIJ challenged Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi not to “capitulate to groups who were illegally intimidating the (Article 11) forums.”
Badawi was said to have ordered restrictions on discussions of inter-faith issues, on the argument that they have allegedly disturbed public sensitivities and social harmony.
Article 11 held a forum on Saturday, 22 July 2006, with discussions revolving around Malaysia’s Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. The forum was cut short by protesters who claimed that the forum was an insult to Islam.
Rights advocates said that Malaysian police allowed the protesters to enter conference venue and intimidate the attendees.

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