Is freedom of expression online under threat in Malaysia? Though the government has long promised to never censor the internet, Prime Minister Najib Razak recently announced plans to ‘regulate’ it in the interest of preventing an “ungoverned space dominated by insults and untruths". Najib has made similar comments in recent months, as have other members of his cabinet. As part of this trend, the government has also discussed amending internet laws so that online portals would be required to register themselves with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.
Critics say such moves would represent the latest in a long list of government efforts to control speech. They also find the timing of the rhetoric suspect. The Prime Minister is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal in which money from a government investment fund (1MDB) was allegedly diverted to his personal bank accounts. So much of the conversation around the controversy has taken place online that in July, the government warned that the continued sharing of "unverified news" and "modified images" on social media could be met with fines and jail time. Outlets such as Sarawak Report and The Edge have been blocked or suspended for their coverage of 1MDB.
Beyond the scandal, the government has pointed to other incidents they see as examples of social media being used irresponsibly. Online conversations around a violent shopping mall dispute in July were said to have destroyed racial harmony, while the Prime Minister sued a Member of Parliament over an allegedly defamatory Facebook post.


So, is this an alarming moment for civil liberties in Malaysia? Or is government regulation necessary to maintain social cohesion and prevent defamation? 

In this epsidoe of The Stream, we speak to:

Jac SM Kee @jhbye
Association for Progressive Communications

Jahabar Sadiq @jahabarsadiq
CEO & Editor, The Malaysian Insider 

Syed Abdul Razak Alsagoff
Deputy speaker, The Malaysian People’s Movement Party

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.