KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has pulled the plug on a popular news portal often critical of the government, sparking protests from a resurgent opposition.
Malaysia’s telecoms watchdog ordered internet providers to block access to Malaysia Today (www.malaysia-today.net) website because it posted comments that could incite the country’s multi-racial society, a government official said on Friday.
Home (Interior) Minister Syed Hamid said Malaysia Today’s editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin had ignored warnings from the watchdog to abide by the law.
“We do not intend to curtail people’s freedom or right to express themselves. Everyone is subjected to the law, even websites and blogs,” the Star newspaper on Friday quoted him as saying.
It is believed to be the first time such curbs have been used against a non-pornographic website. Malaysians have been flocking to the Internet for independent news as an alternative to tightly controlled mainstream media.
The ruling came as Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in on Thursday as a member of parliament and took his seat as the new opposition leader.
His return following an enforced 10-year absence could curtail the government’s ability to form policy as well as step up confrontations between the government and the opposition.
The opposition derided the website ban as another example of power abuse by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s government.
It also ran contrary to the government’s pledge to keep cyberspace uncensored, said Lim Kit Siang, leader of the Democratic Action Party, part of Anwar’s opposition alliance.
“This is merely the first step in a comprehensive and reprehensible attempt to curb the access of conscientious Malaysians to the Internet,” Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat said.
Raja Petra said the move came as a surprise to him.
“I didn’t think that they would go ahead because their own charter guarantees no-censorship,” he said. “This is the first time they officially blocked my website.”
Raja Petra has drawn a huge fan base as well as lawsuits for publishing articles and sensitive documents on his website.
Last week, police raided his house and seized a laptop, a scanner and some documents, domestic media said.
The website was not available in Malaysia on Friday, but a message directed readers to a mirrored site (mt.harapanmalaysia.com/2008/) which could be accessed.
Reporting by Jalil Hamid; Editing by David Fox