Around 700 pro-government “Red Shirts” rallied in front of the Malaysiakini office on Nov. 5 to protest the online news service's receipt of "foreign funding." The group also threatened to "tear down the offices" of the independent news portal.

In a press statement released on Nov. 4, human rights organization Amnesty International said that Malaysian authorities should take these threats seriously and the government “has a human rights obligation to protect journalists.”

The National Union of Journalists Malaysia said that Red Shirts leader and United Malays National Organization (UMNO) member Jamal Yunos should be investigated for criminal intimidation, Free Malaysia Today reports.

However, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar said on Nov. 4 that he would “see what happens” during the Red Shirts protest instead of taking action, Malaysiakini reports. He also said that “(Jamal) makes a lot of statements, but nothing comes of it.”

The “Red Shirts” group were demanding an explanation regarding a grant allegedly received by Malaysiakini from Open Society Foundations (OSF), an organization linked to American billionaire George Soros.

The group claims that the funds were being used to influence the next Malaysian general election and oust Prime Minister Najib Razak, increasingly unpopular due to his ties to the 1MDB corruption scandal.

The Guardian reports that OSF has denied accusations of trying to overthrow the Malaysian government. The foundation said it was non-partisan and grants were to “support justice, accountability and democratic practice around the world.”

Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan confirmed that Malaysiakini received a grant but that it was very small, according to The Guardian. He also said that Malaysiakini “is not about toppling governments, but holding those in power accountable to the public.”

Yunos has also called for the Malaysian government to revoke Malaysiakini’s permit and shut down the media outlet; the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is investigating the allegations.

The “Red Shirts” were formed as a countermovement to Bersih, a coalition of NGOs formed in 2006 to call for electoral reform, which is also accused of receiving funding from OSF. Bersih leader Yunos has also called for the government to dissolve legal representative organization the Bar Council, which he claims is also being influenced by George Soros because it accepted funding from OSF for their work on migrant research.

Bersih has also condemned the MCMC’s investigation. In a statement published in Malaysiakini on Nov. 7, the group said there was no law prohibiting a news portal from receiving foreign funding, and the same ministers who “decry foreign funding for NGOs and news portals” rushed to Malaysian Official 1’s (Prime Minister Najib) defense when reports he received “donations” and misappropriated public funds were released.

“As it stands, the authorities seem to be wielding the law to their convenience and silencing views and actions they don’t agree with, supposedly in the name of protecting parliamentary democracy,” said Bersih.

The Malaysian government has also blocked other news sites that have published reports on the Prime Minister’s corruption scandal such as The Malaysian Insider and Sarawak Report. The Malaysian Insider shut down this March after it was blocked. The blogging site Medium, which hosted Sarawak Report articles, has also been blocked in the country. The Malaysian police have issued warrants for the arrest of British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown, who is the founder of Sarawak Report and exposed the 1MDB scandal.

Bersih is planning its fifth rally on Nov. 19 to call for a clean government, stronger parliamentary democracy and for Prime Minister Najib Razak to step down. Both groups have been warned from gathering by the Malaysian authorities, but the Red Shirts have said they will still gather if the Bersih rally goes on.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White