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Some Malaysian websites to 'black out' on Aug 14
Publication Date : 10-08-2012
Visitors to popular Malaysian Web forum Cari next Tuesday will be greeted not by its blue-and-white layout, but by a stark black pop-up page.
The same applies to news website Malaysiakini and auction site Lelong.
With the help of a cartoon, the pop-up will explain how a recently amended law affects Internet users, and urge people to sign a Facebook petition against it.
At least 45 Malaysian websites are expected to take part in the one-day campaign.
Dubbed Internet Blackout Day, it is modelled after a similar online protest on Jan 18 by United States websites against the passing of a new anti-piracy law. Wikipedia notably went offline that day, while Google blacked out its homepage logo.
Two days later, US lawmakers postponed indefinitely plans to draft the Bill, after considering the widespread concerns.
Malaysia's Evidence Act, which went into effect last week, holds owners of websites, social media accounts and electronic devices responsible for defamatory content that is published or re-published, whether it was written by them or not.
The new law deems the accused guilty unless he can prove otherwise. Critics have pointed out that this goes against the oft-held principle that anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This can be a problem for anybody with a Facebook page, but for owners of a busy forum like Cari - which gets as many as 150,000 unique visitors daily - it creates an even bigger headache.
"We would now be liable for anything posted," said its founder and chief executive Liew Chew Keat. "But it is impossible to monitor everyone or to prove that we were not the ones who posted an offensive comment."
To protect itself under existing defamation laws, Cari has disclaimers and removes offensive posts if someone complains.
Still, Liew is anxious about whether this will be enough under the new law, which was passed in Parliament in April and gazetted only last week.
On paper, it may not be.
Besides owners of websites, prominent activists such as Marina Mahathir and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin have also spoken up against the Act.
Internet Blackout Day is being coordinated by the Centre for Independent Journalism. A non-governmental organisation formed in 2003 by former journalists, it works on freedom of expression issues.
In June, it handed in a petition with more than 3,000 signatures against the Evidence Act, to a deputy minister in Parliament.
Critics say the Act curbs freedom of speech and have urged the government to rescind it, and instead use current laws such as the Computer Crimes Act to nab wrongdoers.
The government, however, has defended the new Act. It said people who make libellous statements online often go unpunished under existing laws, because it is easy to deny responsibility.
"Freedom of speech comes with greater responsibility, so all it means is that you have to be careful," said de facto law minister Nazri Aziz. "Users must be more responsible as your actions may affect others."
New media consultant Oon Yeoh said the law may have been the authorities' response to an increasingly unfettered cyberspace as more Malaysians go online.
He worries that the Evidence Act is prone to abuse.
"Anyone can be sabotaged if someone goes to their Facebook page to post libellous remarks. The authorities should employ better Internet forensics to catch perpetrators," he said. "Fight technology with technology, not with law."