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In Malaysia, Backstepping on Press Freedom


FILE - A woman browses the Internet at a cyber cafe in Kuala Lumpur.

The United States is concerned about the deterioration of freedom of the press and the internet in Malaysia, a friend and partner of the United States.

The United States is concerned about the deterioration of freedom of the press and the internet in Malaysia, a friend and partner of the United States.

Mired in allegations of corruption involving high-level officials, the Malaysian government is misusing a variety of laws to crack down on independent media. The Malaysian Legislature voted last year to tighten restrictions on speech by increasing the 1948 Sedition Act’s penalties to include allegedly seditious material on social media.

Though the government uses the Sedition Act, national security, and other laws more frequently to stifle dissent, Malaysia’s vibrant array of independent media continue to publish stories on alleged corruption. Over the past year, the Malaysian government blocked at least twelve popular media outlets, including Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel and the blogging platform Medium. Then, in late February, it blocked the domestic website The Malaysian Insider.

“The United States is very concerned by the Government of Malaysia’s actions to restrict access to domestic and international reporting on Malaysian current affairs,” said State Department Spokesperson John Kirby in a written statement.

“We are further troubled that the Government has not acted transparently nor provided due process to the targeted media organizations and platforms prior to blocking access, and that the Government of Malaysia has initiated criminal investigations against reporters, editors, and publishers from a variety of Malaysian and international media organizations. Of equal concern, many Malaysian social media users face charges for postings critical of the Government and national leaders,” wrote Spokesperson Kirby.

Rule of law, transparency, and the free flow of information are at the heart of modern democracies with competitive economies. Criminalizing speech stymies innovative thinking and undermines citizens’ trust in the institutions of government. Such restrictions make it harder for countries to thrive and prosper.

“The United States and Malaysia have built a strong comprehensive partnership, through which we hope to expand our cooperation on a range of shared challenges,” said Kirby. “In that context, we urge the Government of Malaysia to ensure that all its laws, existing and future, fully respect freedom of expression, including the free flow of ideas on the internet.”

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