US Rebukes Malaysia for Restrictions on Press, Internet Freedoms

BenarNews Staff
Washington, D.C.
160302-MY-us-statement-620.jpg U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby, shown here discussing North Korea’s bomb detonation on Jan. 6, 2016, issued a statement Wednesday challenging Malaysia for its efforts to block internet sites that post stories critical of the government.

In a rare rebuke of a close Southeast Asian ally, the United States on Wednesday called on Malaysia to “fully respect” free speech and ease restrictions on media outlets that have been reporting critically about the government in Kuala Lumpur.

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

“The government’s Feb. 25 decision to block online news portal The Malaysian Insider (TMI) is only the latest in a series of similar efforts against media organizations.”

Last week, Malaysian police questioned TMI’s chief executive and four staffers, a day after telecommunications companies shut down the website under a directive from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

The site was blocked domestically after it published a report alleging there was credible evidence to frame charges against Prime Minister Najib Razak in a scandal linked to indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

TMI is the second news site to be blocked this year after the Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel suffered a similar fate on Jan. 29.

The Sarawak Report, a Malaysian news website based in the United Kingdom, has been blocked within Malaysia since July 20, 2015. Additionally, Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism claimed that blog hosting site Medium had been blocked since January, apparently because it published an article from the Sarawak Report.

Kirby said the U.S. was troubled that the Malaysian government did not act transparently nor provide due process to targeted media organizations and platforms prior to blocking access, and that the government initiated criminal investigations against reporters, editors and publishers from domestic and international media organizations.

Kirby also expressed “equal concern” that “many Malaysian social media users face charges for postings critical of the government and national leaders. Malaysian officials have also publicly described coming amendments to its Communications and Multimedia Act that would further restrict online space.”

Ally in Trade, Anti-terror efforts

The U.S. rebuke came a day after The Wall Street Journal published a report that Najib may have received hundreds of millions more than U.S. $687 million that had been deposited into his private bank accounts in 2013. On Tuesday, the Journal reported that other deposits were made into his accounts in 2011 and 2012.

A government spokesman rejected the Journal’s latest article about Najib, pointing to a report from the Malaysian attorney general’s office that cleared him of wrongdoing related to the 2013 donation. The attorney general determined earlier this year that the money was a gift from the Saudi royal family, and much of it has been returned.

Despite the American rebuke, Kirby said the U.S. wanted to maintain its relationship with Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur along with the U.S. and 10 other countries recently signed the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. Malaysia also is a key partner of the U.S. in efforts to counter the threat of radical Islam in Southeast Asia and the regional influence of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

“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. 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,” Kirby said.


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