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Malaysian Activists Stage One Day Internet Blackout to Protest Proposed Government Legislation

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, August 14 2012

Malaysian activists and business owners staged a one-day Internet blackout on August 14 to raise public awareness of Amendment 114A to the Evidence Act. The amendment would make people responsible for any content coming out of their computers, mobile devices or Internet connections — including anonymous comments left on their blogs and social media accounts. It would also mean that business owners would be held responsible for information posted on the Internet by users taking advantage of the free WiFi available in cafes and other commercial venues. People accused of hosting or disseminating dissent via anonymous comments would be deemed guilty until they prove themselves innocent, so one could even be held accountable for information posted on an account that had been hacked.

The government says the point of the law is to prevent online bullying, but opponents allege the government's real motive is to stifle dissent. Nearly all mainstream media outlets in Malaysia are somehow connected to the governing coalition.

Lim Yung Hui of the Forbes Report posted a cogent summary of the controversial Section 114A amendment to the law.

The Amendment aims to facilitate the identification and proving of the identity of an anonymous person involved in publication through the Internet. However, the amended Act is pregnant with unintended consequences. The insertion of Section 114A in the amended Act is controversial, mainly because it is fairly easy for fairness to start down the slippery slope. And for the most part, it is being perceived as a sinister attempt to stifle freedom of expression on the Internet.

Section 114A of the Act outlines the court’s presumption of facts and the most troubling presumption made is that whoever in any manner facilitates to publish or re-publish the publication is presumed to have published or re-published the contents of the publication.

Owners of social networking sites or websites with forums or blog’s owner, for example, are presumed to publish any seditious postings made by its community member, as the site owners facilitate the publication of the seditious postings. A person re-sharing a post on Facebook site can also be considered as facilitating the re-publication of any contentious content. The accused-but-innocent person must then create reasonable doubt to the court’s assumed facts.

The Center for Independent Journalism has been leading an online campaign that includes a Wordpress blog called Stop114A, a Facebook page (nearly 50,000 'likes' as of this writing) and of course a Twitter hashtag, #stop114A. The international media covered the story quite well, particularly in a BBC World radio report and interview with various Malaysian Internet activists and bloggers.

By the end of the day, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Rajak announced via his Twitter account (@najibrazak) that he would ask Cabinet to discuss Act 114A. "Whatever we do," tweeted the prime minister, "We must put people first."

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