The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia is to launch an Internet blackout day next Tuesday in the drive against the introduction of Section 114A of the Evidence Act, which it says will muzzle Internet freedom.
The move is aimed at creating awareness among Internet users about the negative impact of the amendment on online expression.
CIJ executive officer Masjaliza Hamzah (right) said in a statement today the objective is for netizens to urge the government to withdraw the amendment which, together with a few other laws, was passed hastily in the April sitting of Parliament and gazetted on July 31.
“The amendment has raised concerns from many quarters, such as lawyers, activists and Internet-based businesses. Under that section, an Internet user is deemed the publisher of any online content, unless proven otherwise," Masjaliza said.
“It also makes individuals and those who administer, operate or provide space for online community forums, blogging and hosting services, to be liable for the content published.
“This presumption of guilt goes against the fundamental principle of justice - that one is innocent until proven guilty - and disproportionately burdens a person who may not have the resources to defend himself in court.”
The amendment’s wide reach, Masjaliza said, would affect all Internet users, websites that provide space for online comments, and any business premises that give free Wi-Fi access to their customers.
This new section was enacted despite the fact that existing laws - including the Computer Crimes Act 1997, Sedition Act 1948, Defamation Act 1957, and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 - have been used to arrest and charge those who commit defamation, fraud and sedition online.
Human rights lawyer Edmund Bon has also argued that the amendment Section 114A was not necessary as police could obtain evidence by other means, and not hold hosting services liable.
Pakatan Rakyat MPs have also called for the revocation of the section as it muzzles the Internet media.
Cue from US, New Zealand
Masjaliza said Malaysia’s first Internet Blackout Day took the cue from similar efforts in the United States and New Zealand in support of Internet freedom.
“On Aug 14, Internet users who visit participating websites will see a pop-up window which contains the message of the campaign. In addition, netizens can change their profile pictures/avatar on Twitter and Facebook to black or use downloadable images provided by CIJ,” she said.
The proposed action has received positive response, with businesses that rely on the Internet having confirmed their participation.
Among those who have signed up to show support are lelong.com.my, cari.com.my and entertainment portal gua.com.my. Other key supporters include online news sites such as Malaysiakini and Digital News Asia.
The campaign also received support from bloggers such as Niki Cheong and Nat Tan and civil society groups Suaram and the Women’s Aid Organisation.
Netizens who want more information about the campaign or to take part can visit the official Facebook page.