Authorities would like to shut opposition sites, but former PM promised it would stay free, reports Asia Sentinel

In August of 1996, when he launched the 50 km-long Multimedia Super Corridor between Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia’s new international airport in an attempt to lure high-tech startups to his country, then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a promise to prospective international investors that the Internet would remain forever free from political interference.

Mahathir Mohamad

Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Pic: AP.

It is a promise that successive governments – and belatedly perhaps Mahathir himself – have had trouble keeping or wish had never been made, as exemplified by the raid last week on Malaysiakini, with 300,000 daily readers the biggest of the flock of independent or opposition news sites that have altered Malaysia’s political landscape.

Fifteen policemen showed up at the news organization’s offices in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Petaling Jaya to demand information about a writer who posted a long argument that basically asked why ethnic Malays had to be Muslims, among other things.

That was just the latest in a continuing list of actions against Malaysiakini. Others have included various police threats and DDOS (directed denial of service) attacks, in which hundreds of responses to a story or other item on the site flood servers and clog them up, shutting down the site. Steven Gan, the editor of Malaysiakini, and Premesh Chandran, the business director, have been called to give statements to the police on the site’s funding.

Nor is Malaysiakini alone. Three other news sites – Malaysian InsiderFree Malaysia Today and the Sarawak Report say they have come under varying degrees of harassment. A fourth site, Malaysia Today, is published by Raja Petra Kamarudin from outside the country after he was threatened with criminal libel and sedition charges.

There are plenty more opposition sites as well. With the mainstream media completely in government hands, Malaysia has grown one of the most intensive opposition online communities anywhere.

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