Malaysia’s leading political blog was being blocked yesterday in what was seen as a crackdown on internet websites credited with contributing to government losses in this year’s general election.
The move came as former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was being sworn in as the new opposition leader following a by-election victory this week that returned him to parliament for the first time in a decade.
Mr Anwar vowed to mount a no-confidence vote against the government by midSeptember.
The Malaysia Today website was blocked by state-owned Telekom Malaysia, the country’s leading internet service provider, on the orders of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, which said comments posted on it were “insensitive, bordering on incitement”.
The MCMC action represents an apparent reversal of government promises not to censor the internet, except for pornographic websites. The policy was introduced in the 1990s to encourage foreign investment in the showcase Multimedia Super Corridor, near Kuala Lumpur.
Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister, recently admitted the government had underestimated the influence of the internet in the March general election. Internet news sites, such as subscriber-based Malaysiakini, have emerged as credible alternatives to the state-controlled media.
Officials have suggested that they may also adopt the policy of neighbouring Singapore, which uses sedition and defamation suits to counter “unethical” allegations on the internet and to hold bloggers accountable.
Singapore allows critical websites, but it recently jailed two bloggers and put another on probation for making “racist” comments.
Mr Abdullah said disinformation on the internet should not go unchallenged because it undermined trust in the government.
Malaysia Today is seen as the first test of the new policy. The website is operated by Raja Petra Kamarudin, a Malaysian royal family member and long-standing government critic.
“The government has written [to] all 20 internet service providers and I expect we will be blocked by all of them within the next few days. There is strong pressure from the government to do so,” said Mr Raja Petra.