Malaysia’s civil liberties squeezed as news portals closed, books seized amid creeping censorship: report

The People Power Under Attack 2023 report cited an increase in censorship under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration despite his pro-reform pledge

(SCMP) – Malaysia’s civil liberties remain “obstructed”, a report on rights and freedoms across the Asia-Pacific said on Wednesday, citing a litany of closures of news portals and book seizures as examples of an increasingly censorious government under Anwar Ibrahim’s premiership.

The People Power Under Attack 2023 report by civil rights group Civicus and 20 other partners worldwide paints a picture of stagnation in Malaysia’s civic space across five different prime ministers, while pointing to an increase in censorship under Anwar’s one-year administration.

“In June 2023, the news portal MalaysiaNow was inaccessible to some users and blocked by some internet service providers,” it said.

“In August 2023, the government blocked some internet users accessing another news site,, as well as news website TV Pertiwi.”

MalaysiaNow, which terminated all of its staff in October due to financial difficulties, was closely associated with the opposition Perikatan Nasional coalition. Meanwhile, TV Pertiwi had published reports critical of the government. The motivation for the block of UtusanTV, however, remains unclear.

Civicus, which has been monitoring and publishing its reports since 2017 categorises countries under five groups – “open, narrowed, obstructed, repressed, or closed” – based on information on freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the state’s duty to protect those fundamental freedoms.

Malaysia is joined by Indonesia and Singapore in the “obstructed” category, with neighbouring Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia faring worse under the “repressed” category, the report added. Vietnam, Laos, and war-torn Myanmar were bottom rated, alongside Hong Kong, as “closed”.

In Southeast Asia, only Timor Leste made progress moving from the obstructed category to “narrowed”, ranking alongside Australia and South Korea.

“But overall the trend is negative,” said Josef Benedict, Civicus Monitor’s Asia-Pacific researcher.

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