What things are taboo in Malaysia

Malaysia: Freedom of the press on the Internet - nothing but lip service

People like me who are critical of the government do not get any printing licenses. That's why we switch to the Internet. Because the government has promised not to exercise any censorship on the Internet. People want to see things differently. Therefore they click on our page. We managed to build credibility. We made it clear to our readers that we have well-trained journalists who double-check their facts and do not spread rumors.

Five years ago Steven Gan founded the internet newspaper "Malaysiakini" - in German: "Malaysia today". Since then, its ten-strong editorial team has been posting independent news online. The only online newspaper in the country reports daily on what can be read between the lines elsewhere. And: Malaysiakini writes about taboo topics that are hushed up elsewhere.

We have basically the same problems as other multicultural societies, only that the situation in Malaysia is a lot more extreme. Because when you talk about ethnic minorities, in the case of Malaysia it means that you are talking about 40% of society. The government tries to suppress existing tensions by authoritatively preventing any discussion of race or religion. But that's the wrong way. In order to achieve mutual understanding, it is very important to exchange views. With Malaysiakini we offer a forum to bring people of different beliefs and ethnic groups together. We have shown that discussions are possible without riots breaking out and people setting cars on fire on the street.

So much independence is a thorn in the side of the authorities. The authorities are doing all they can to prevent the independent online newspaper from appearing. For three years one of Malaysiakini's regular contributors, journalist and documentary filmmaker Hishamuddin Rais, was detained without trial or conviction. The accusation: Rais tried to overthrow the government. He was finally released two months ago.

Political arbitrariness and economic pressure - that seems to be the government's strategy. A couple of calls from the right places were enough to cut Malaysiakini's financial foundation. Suddenly no company wanted to advertise on the website. There were also problems with the landlord. The termination of the business premises was only withdrawn after international protests. The authorities also hinder Malaysiakini in their daily work. Online journalists do not receive press accreditation and - if they are allowed to attend press conferences at all - are not allowed to ask any questions.

We are under enormous pressure. For example, last year we had a police raid. They accused us of publishing a letter to the editor critical of the government and confiscated 19 of our computers.

The online newspaper is now being put under more subtle pressure. Katrin Evers from the human rights organization Reporters Without Borders on what is going on in the Southeast Asian country:

Then in the last year it was also observed that hackers log into opposition sites, including the Malaysiakini sites, and these sites are then inaccessible from time to time, or at short notice, some pornographic sites can be accessed for a few seconds. "

Despite all the harassment, Malaysiakini exists. Around 100,000 people click on the site every day. Many of them are now subscribers. This ensures the immediate future of the newspaper. But what will happen next year? In Asia in particular, freedom of the press is little respected on the Internet.

In Malaysia the situation is still relatively moderate compared to other Asian countries. In China, for example, there are 30,000 Internet police officers on duty. China is therefore also the world's largest prison for so-called cyber dissidents, 63 people are currently in custody there. There are also cyber dissidents imprisoned in the Maldives, Syria and Vietnam to complain about, so that 75 people worldwide are currently in jail according to our calculations for expressing their opinion on the Internet.

After Rais was released, there are no more cyber dissidents in Malaysia at the moment. The country is modern and cosmopolitan. The government wants to make the area around the capital Kuala Lumpur the second Silicon Valley. For this purpose, the former President Mahatir had a zone of 15 kilometers networked with modern fiber optic cables. A good 30 percent of the population in the country now has Internet access. The president promised free and uncontrolled access to the new medium for the economic boom. But that's nothing but lip service.