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Malaysia: Blackout Protest Against Internet Censorship Legislation

This August 14, 2012, Malaysian netizens are blacking out in protest against the second of two recent amendments made to the Malaysian Evidence Act 1950. The amendment made by the Evidence (Amendment) (No2) Act 2012, Section 114A (S114A), deals with allegedly illicit or harmful content on the Internet.

As Malaysia's Centre for Independent Journalism states, “the amendment enables law enforcement officials to swiftly hold someone accountable for publishing seditious, defamatory, or libelous content online.”

S114A, entitled “Presumption of Fact in Publication”, holds (1) those who own, administrate, or edit websites open to public contributors, such as online forums or blogs; (2) those who provide webhosting services or Internet access; and (3) those own the computer or mobile device used to publish content online, accountable for content published through their services, on their sites, or ‘in their name'.

Furthermore, those alleged to have posted the illicit or defamatory content are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent, thus contravening the usual ‘innocent until proven guilty’ logic of judicial process.

The Amendment was tabled by ruling coalition Barisan Nasional‘s Law Minister, Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, in Dewan Rakyat (the Malaysian ‘People's Hall’ or House of Representatives) on 18 April, and was passed after the second and third reading during April's parliamentary meeting which saw a raft of laws passed without debate.

On 9 May, Dewan Negara (the Malaysian ‘National Hall’ or Senate) passed the amendment. The amendment was gazetted on 31 July 2012, meaning that the law is now fully operational.

One of the #stop114a blackout banners in Bahasa Melayu

One of the #stop114a blackout banners in Bahasa Melayu

S114A has been received with widespread criticism, but opposition had remained fractured until recently, with Malaysia's Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) coordinating and distributing an online petition asking for the Amendment to be repealed, signed by more than 3300 people, before being delivered to deputy law minister Datuk VK Liew in parliament on June 26.

As CIJ Director Jac Sm Kee commented at the time, the Amendment is likely to have a severe chilling effect upon Malaysian civil society:

What can an ordinary internet user do to prove it wasn’t them who published something online when the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) itself sometimes says it doesn’t have the technical resources to find the real culprits? … If a kopitiam [coffee shop] owner is liable for all the traffic that goes through its wi-fi, it places a lot of burden on them, in terms of monetary and human resources, to either conduct surveillance or stop providing wi-fi altogether.

When the petition was ignored and the law made operational on July 31, the CIJ began coordinating the current internet blackout campaign, using existing links with Malaysian opinion leaders and reaching out through social media platforms to publicise and gain pain participation in the blackout. The Internet blackout follows similar protests in New Zealand and France (2009), Russia and Myanmar (2012), and the global anti-SOPA/PIPA Internet blackout which occurred earlier this year, with the blackout tactic appearing to spread globally amongst digital rights supporters.

A host of news and commercial sites (including influential Malaysian independent news site Malaysiakini), bloggers, public figures, community forums and civil society organizations are participating in the Malaysian blackout, but Malaysia's social media sphere is also notably dark, with large numbers of Facebook and Twitter users ‘getting involved’ and blacking out their avatars, posting status updates criticizing the amendment, and contributing to the Twitter hashtag #stop114a.

A selection of comments from the hashtag illustrates the overwhelmingly negative response to the legislation:

@wikileaks: Tomorrow is Malaysia's ‘Internet Blackout Day’ – A campaign for internet freedom. #Stop114A https://wlfriends.org/

@DSamyVellu: Imagine a world with true Internet freedom. But freedom is not free. We must fight for our freedom. Happy #Stop114A Day. See you Wednesday.

@Mayazhrdn: #Stop114A isn't bcs of ppl being scared of being held guilty against what they say, but bcs EVEN IF you get hacked, you're guilty.

@salhasyafiqah: Evidence (Amendment) (No2) Act 2012, Section 114A –> This is crap and nonsense. #Stop114A

@Ahriman92: No #freedomofspeech equals muted injustice just like what the government wants. Oppression in broad daylight. #stop114A

One of the #stop114a tweets perhaps sums the blackout up best:

@nikicheong: #Stop114A could be Malaysia's most successful digital civil movement. Hacktivism at its best. Let's make it happen people.

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