Human Rights Watch (HRW) has cautioned Malaysia against emulating Singapore's model of controlling the Internet, through proposed amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).

The Malaysian government risks putting itself at loggerheads with the people if it continues to crack down on freedom of speech, HRW Asia Division deputy director Phil Robertson told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

"They (the government) are also trying to put the Internet genie into the bottle and go back to the times when the government can control what is being printed in newspapers," Robertson said.

"The proposed changes to the CMA are very worrisome," he said, adding that the existing provisions in this law are already very vague in defining what would be deemed as offensive posts.

Among others, Robertson cited provisions under Section 211 of the CMA, which covers prohibitions on offensive content and includes contents with intention to "annoy or harass" another person.

"What is annoying? A person riding a motorcycle really loudly is annoying to me...," he said.

Total discretion to prosecute

This is on top of the proposed amendments giving broader powers and total discretion for the government to prosecute any individual, Robertson said.

Aside from individual concerns, he said, now is also the time for major international companies to speak up in defence of Internet freedom.

"This is a major challenge for Internet freedom in Malaysia.

"It is not just incumbent upon Malaysians but also companies such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo! It is time for them to step in and speak to the Malaysian government," he said.

PKR vice-president Tian Chua, who was also present at the press conference, noted that many Malaysians were not aware of the going-ons in Parliament, including on debates and the passing of new laws.

"The passing of a law often goes unnoticed, but the authorities hope that after this (the CMA amendment bill) has been passed, it will reshape how people use social media," said Tian Chua, the Batu MP.

The press conference was also held to launch HRW's latest report on Malaysia - Deepening the Culture of Fear (The Criminalisation of Peaceful Expression in Malaysia) - a follow-up to a report it released in October last year.

The report, among others, records the government's ongoing criminalisation of freedom of expression between October last year and September this year.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on Malaysiakini.

Edited by: Edward White