Home Civil Society Voices From reformers to censors? Pakatan Harapan’s plan to regulate social media

From reformers to censors? Pakatan Harapan’s plan to regulate social media

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to news reports yesterday that the cabinet has approved plans to impose licensing and regulate social media platforms, including regulation of political content.

This news is shocking and disturbing to all right-minded people in Malaysia. It is yet another clear indication of the Anwar government’s bid to stifle and control freedom of speech. It continues the current trend of clamping down on public discourse under the guise of stemming supposed harmful and illegal content.

The government’s methods are cynical. Whilst pretending to act for the public good, it is in fact acting in its self-interest.

Criticism by the public of the government online and in social media has been robust and effective, as it should be in any proper democracy.

Instead of accepting criticism and responding to it, the government is attempting to clamp down on it by oppressive regulation, in the time-honoured manner of authoritarian regimes.

Despite decades of promising reform, the Pakatan Harapan-led government has shown itself to be an enemy of the constitutional right to freedom of speech under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.

It has reneged on its promise to abolish draconian laws that severely limit freedom of speech and continually uses those laws against the public.

It is also well known that the government is systematically blocking videos by government critics on social media platforms, including several online news portals. We are in possession of correspondences that prove that the blocking against government critics is organised and systematic.

The government has been deliberately instilling a climate of fear to deter members of the public and the press from airing serious criticisms of the government or its policies.

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It was only a few months ago that the government threatened the public against discussing the widely reported Forest City casino issue, even resorting to charging prominent critics like Chegubard under the infamous Sedition Act for making a Facebook post based on the news reported by Bloomberg.

It is thus unsurprising that the government’s new plan to impose licensing and regulations on social media has set alarm bells ringing. It stinks of despotism and self-interest. It draws comparisons with North Korea, Communist China and PAP-ruled Singapore.

It is abhorrent that the cabinet, which consists of members of PH – a political coalition that owes its survival and success to online news and social media platforms – is now planning severe restrictions on these platforms.

This is the ultimate betrayal of its reform promises and a failure to uphold constitutional rights.

LFL urges the government to retract this despotic new plan to stifle online criticism – specifically, any part of the planned regulations that aim to censor or limit discourse on matters of public importance, particularly the purported regulations regarding political content.

Any such regulations existing would make a mockery of the Constitution and relegate our country to dictatorial rule. – LFL

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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