AMID concern from a number of Malaysian NGOs, Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar announced this week that “police have no choice but to beef up efforts to monitor social media as many internet users in the country abuse the platform by issuing insensitive comments”.
This comes at a time where reporters and opposition politicians are prosecuted on sedition charges, and arrest warrants sought through Interpol for the editor of the Sarawak Report, Clare Rewcastle-Brown.
Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom is currently on trial because of a legal opinion he gave over the Perak constitutional crisis, and activist Khalid Ismath faces 14 charges under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 and Sedition Act 1948 for statements he made on social media. Mary Ann Jolley was deported from Malaysia for her report on the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu. She is also under investigation under section 505(b) of the Penal Code related to “statements with the intent to cause, or is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public”.
It appears that any criticism about government politicians and issues of corruption have been defined as threats to national security by the recently appointed Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali, who replaced Abdul Gani Patail only amid the fallout from the 1MDB issue.
Freedom of expression in Malaysia is rapidly declining, where any dissent is now considered a threat to public order and national security.
Former Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir, when the Multimedia Corridor was launched back in the 1990s, gave a public assurance that the internet would never be censored. However, late last year the Malaysian Government banned the media website The Edge for three months for its for coverage of the 1MDB issue, claiming that it threatened public order and national security, and blocked access to the Sarawak Report within Malaysia.
What is of even more concern is that Malaysian police also intend to monitor messaging app WhatsApp, which would constitute spying on private citizens. Bakar confirmed that police will monitor specific people who they believe are a threat to national security.
When a 400GB cache of files from a Milan based company Hacking Team was dumped on the internet last year, it was revealed that the Prime Minister’s Department in Malaysia had acquired software which, according to Hacking Team’s own promotional material, can “Hack into your target with the most advanced infection vectors available. Enter his wireless network and tackle tactical operations with ad-hoc equipment designed to operate while on the move…. Remote Control System: the hacking suite for governmental interception. Right at your fingertips.”
This software can used an attack vector into a target computer, via Adobe software to gain access, and could read encrypted emails, skype calls, and documents, or deliver malicious software or viruses. The software ‘DaVinci’ is a remote control system which can also turn on microphones and cameras within targeted computers and mobile phones.
One can assume now that public officials are active in scanning the internet and on chat applications for potentially â€˜seditiousâ€™ materials and communications. Therefore no online or telephone communications can be guaranteed free of ease dropping by authorities within Malaysia.
In Malaysia where the internet is the primary way that groups express their feelings about human rights and democracy, and alternative media is the only channel where news about corruption can be made public, the Najib Government has begun winding this medium in, which will suppress the flow of information and expression around the country.
In the midst of increasing crackdowns on dissent, Malaysia now has one of the most repressed media in the region, and it appears the internet and social media is also to be harnessed. According to Aliran spokesman Mustafa Anuar, this indicates that the”regime is nervous and insecure and, in turn, increasingly intolerant of legitimate criticism, the exchange of views in the public domain, and dissent”.
At a time when the resources of Malaysian police are already stretched to the limit, the focus on monitoring the internet, social media, and chat applications is going to take more personnel away from where crime is really happening, out on the streets of Malaysia. This is all to catch what Bakar calls immature internet users, who he claims may give rise to racial and religious divisions which could affect public order.
Since the late 1990s, the internet and social media has given Malaysians new freedoms to express their feelings and concerns about society and politics in the country. Internet freedoms played a major role in the rise of the opposition vote over the last four general elections. This freedom is now being taken away, with Bakar specifically singling out this task to his force.
Malaysia’s police force has become heavily politicized, and has become a major tool in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s attempts to stay in power.