Malaysia Blocks Investigative News Website

By Nani Yusof
150720-MY-Razak-620 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak looks on during a meeting for new governmental interns at his office in Putrajaya, July 8, 2015.

The Malaysian government has blocked access to a British website that was among the first news organizations to break the story about an alleged transfer of nearly U.S. $700 million from a troubled state fund into bank accounts owned by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

On Sunday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) announced it was moving to block access to the website within the country, saying the action followed public complaints that the Sarawak Report was publishing “unsubstantiated” reports. The website is under investigation and such reports are “detrimental to national security,” the commission said.

As of Monday, internet users in Malaysia could not access the London-based website that has published exposés on alleged corruption in Malaysian politics and industry since 2010.

A complaint lodged with police had accused the website of falsifying information about the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund, according to Bernama, the government-run news agency. The indebted fund is at the center of corruption allegations surrounding Najib.

"The Sarawak Report portal will remain blocked under Section 211 and Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 until the special task force ends its investigations," Bernama quoted MCMC as saying in its statement issued on Sunday.

The commission also warned the public to be cautious when sharing information published by the Sarawak Report, “especially when the authenticity of the information is unverified.”

"Such content could disrupt peace and order, and in the bigger picture could destabilize the nation and the economy," the statement added, according to Bernama.

Website: ‘Blatant attempt’ at censorship

Before Malaysia blocked internet access to the Sarawak Report, on Sunday the website posted a separate statement on Facebook in which it vowed to carry on with its work, saying it would bring out more information to substantiate its claims about the 1MBD story.

“This is a blatant attempt to censor our exposures of major corruption through the development fund 1MDB, including the information that nearly U.S. $700 million of 1MDB[-]related money was paid into the Prime Minister of Malaysia's personal AmBank account in KL [Kuala Lumpur] just before the last election,” the Sarawak Report said.

“This information has already long been disseminated and backed up by other major global news organizations, so we can only assume that the MCMC is fearful that we are about to bring out further revelations,” it continued.

On July 2, the Sarawak Report published an article, in which it alleged a link between the prime minister and a 1MBD money trail. Almost simultaneously, the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal published a report claiming it had obtained documents showing that nearly U.S. $700 million in 1MBD money had been deposited into Najib’s personal bank accounts.

The prime minister has denied the allegations, calling them false and part of a conspiracy to bring down his government.

“Let me be very clear: I have never taken funds for personal gain as alleged by my political opponents – whether from 1MDB, SRC International or other entities, as these companies have confirmed,” Najib said in a statement responding to the WSJ report.

Stalking allegations

Founded by British investigative journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, the Sarawak Report has reported extensively on deforestation in Malaysia, alleged corruption in its timber industry, and investments in foreign properties by the family of former Sarawak state Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, among other stories.

“This latest blow to media freedom only brings further discredit upon the present administration, who have proven unable to counter the evidence we have presented in any other way,” the Sarawak Report said on Facebook.

On Monday, the Sarawak Report posted a statement on its website suggesting that elements associated with the Malaysian government were even harassing and stalking Rewcastle Brown on British soil.

The website said it had filed a report with the Metropolitan Police in London that detailed alleged acts of harassment and stalking there by people “believed to be in the employ of UMNO” – a reference to Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organization.

“The acts of illegal harassment include teams of stalkers, who have followed around after the Editor of Sarawak Report in past days, plainly waiting outside her house and then pursuing her during the day,” the statement said.

“These persons have included a bald, muscle-bound middle-aged white man and a man of Chinese Malaysian appearance, who took photographs of her in broad daylight in Hyde park and other individuals who have followed her car.”

The statement also alleged other types of harassment, including computer hacking, the tapping of phone conversations and disruption of the Radio Free Sarawak, the website’s sister program.


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