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Civil Society To Malaysian Government: Abandon All Attempts To Throttle Online Free Speech

On June 10, at Rights Con 2021, Access Now joined ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, and the Centre for Independent Journalism to demand the Malaysian government abandon all attempts to throttle freedom of expression online, and overturn any plans to reinforce previous administrations’ archaic censorship laws.

“People in Malaysia have had enough of this hackneyed playbook,” said Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now. “They want and deserve the right to freely express themselves. We watched as a previous iteration of this repressive ‘fake news’ law was overturned by the last administration after civil society pressure. This time, we’ll ensure history repeats.”

Authorities have launched a systematic campaign to silence critical or dissenting voices, including through the enactment of the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No.2) Ordinance concerning so-called “fake news,” and continued abuse of existing provisions relating to defamation and national security in the Penal Code; as well as the laws on sedition, contempt of court, public assembly and the Communications and Multimedia Act.

At a RightsCon press briefing, New government, old tactics: laws abused to throttle online expression in Malaysia, Wathshlah Naidu from the Centre for Independent Journalism, Edmund Bon, a human rights lawyer, Fahmi Reza, an artist and political cartoonist, and Steven Gan from independent media outlet Malaysiakini — and target of ongoing government harassment — outlined the backsliding of free speech protections, and highlighted the most problematic developments in the country.

Through a joint statement, the coalition calls on the government of Malaysia to:

  • Repeal Emergency (Essential Powers) (No.2) Ordinance 2021 and revoke the Emergency Declaration;
  • Ensure the timely and regular dissemination of accurate information regarding COVID-19 and engage in public awareness campaigns and other efforts to promote media and digital literacy and to combat misinformation;
  • Initiate a program of legislative reform to bring its legal framework in line with Malaysia’s international human rights obligations;
  • Immediately drop investigations into individuals for legitimately exercising their rights to free expression and information;
  • Cease abuse of the legal system to harass, silence, and obstruct individuals exercising their rights to free expression and information; and
  • Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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