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Malaysia Today Website Blocked

Malaysia on Thursday defended blocking access to a prominent political website that has attacked top leaders, saying it had ignored warnings against publishing “slanderous” articles.

Raja PetraMalaysia’s media is tightly controlled by the government, and it has expressed frustration over its inability to rein in Internet news portals which have become popular alternative news sources.

The Star newspaper said the government-backed communications watchdog had ordered all 21 Internet providers in the country to block the Malaysia Today website, whose founder has already been charged with sedition.

“I think we don’t intend to curtail people’s freedom and right to give information and debate,” Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters.

“But when you publish content that is libellous, defamatory and slanderous to other people I think it is only natural we take action,” he said.

“So many warnings and opportunities have been given and it is not heeded, so I am sure they have exercised their authority well under the law.”

Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder and editor of the Malaysia Today website, confirmed that access to his website had been blocked but said a mirror site had been established with a foreign provider.

“I will fight the government action all the way. Their action will not stop me from writing,” he said, promising to challenge the shutdown in court.

Raja Petra is already facing a sedition charge and a defamation suit after linking Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife to the sensational murder of a Mongolian woman.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Malaysia 124 out of 169 on its worldwide press freedom index, and says the main media are “often compelled to ignore or to play down the many events organised by the opposition”.

The government has previously threatened that bloggers could be punished under draconian internal security laws which provide for detention without trial.

The Malaysian Insider reported on Tuesday that the need to rein in bloggers was discussed at a high-level meeting involving ministers and senior government officials last week.

The consensus among the government officials was that if nothing was done to counter the gush of accusations and allegations against Barisan Nasional leaders, the ruling coalition will face the real prospect of losing the next general elections.

According to their reasoning, some 400,000 new voters are registered every year. With next general election scheduled for 2013, BN will face two million new voters the next time it seeks a mandate from the Malaysian public.

The bulk of the new voters are in their 20s and their No. 1 source of information is likely to be the Internet. Their opinions about the country and its leaders are going to be shaped by what they read on new websites and blogs.

It is understood that an MCMC official at the meeting pointed out that the authorities had adopted a light touch approach because they were mindful of the government’s guarantee of not censoring the Internet.

But ministers and senior civil servants challenged this view, noting that action can be taken for offences under the Sedition Act and defamation.

Source: AFP and The Malaysian Insider

Info: Raja Petra website Malaysia Today can now be accessed at http://mt.harapanmalaysia.com/.

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