By P Prem Kumar
Malaysia's government has blocked access to a popular news portal for its ongoing criticism of Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government -- a move heavily criticized Friday by human rights activists as a violation of press freedoms.
Access to The Malaysian Insider was banned in stages on Thursday night, for being detrimental to the duly elected government and national security, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) said.
The portal is owned by The Edge Media group, which had its printing permit for its financial daily suspended for three months last year for extensive reporting against Razak and state wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
On Friday, Human Rights Watch deputy director Phil Robertson said in a statement that the move was a clear block on press freedoms, claiming Razak -- currently under pressure to resign -- was trying to take control of the country's free and fair online media reporting.
"No one can doubt anymore that Prime Minister Najib and his government are tightening the noose of censorship and control around the necks of Malaysia’s vibrant online news outlets," he said.
Robertson also said the time had come for outside intervention to pressure Razak to stop interfering in media.
“The U.S., European Union and other governments need to intervene now to pressure Malaysia’s leaders to move away from media policies one would expect to see in a one party dictatorship like Vietnam rather than a state that claims to be a modern, multi-party democracy."
Robertson claimed that Razak had gone back on a promise of media freedom he made when he became premier in 2009, and said that the premier was willing to sacrifice his respect for freedom of online expression if it meant he could successfully stifle critical reporting about his government's policies.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak told reporters in Kuala Lumpur Friday that the ban was over the portal's report on the prime minister which quoted an unnamed source in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Operations Review panel as saying there was enough evidence to charge Razak in court over the $10 million money trail from the finance ministry’s SRC International Sdn Bhd to the personal bank account of the premier.
The premier has insisted he has not swindled funds for personal gain, be it from SRC International, indebted state investment vehicle 1MDB -- Razak's brainchild, of which SRC is a subsidiary -- or other entities.
Keruak said the news article had caused confusion as it contradicted the anti-graft agency's official statement on the panel's advice on the two cases involving the premier.
He said the ministry has also received copies of police reports on the news portal and official reports made to the MCMC.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.