After months of devastating reportage by the UK-based Sarawak Report, the Malaysian government has had enough, attempting to block the internet site, edited and mostly reported by former BBC reporter Clare Rewcastle Brown. However, almost immediately, social media have come alive with alternate routes to the site, making the government attempt look futile.
Readers attempting to access the site on July 19 were greeted with a notification in Malay and English by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission that “This website is not available in Malaysia as it violates the National Law.” As far as can be determined, it is the first time the government has closed down a website and it is reminiscent of an action by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1986 when, infuriated by detailed reporting on a variety of scandals, he ordered two Asian Wall Street Journal reporters out of the country within 72 hours.
Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism condemned the blockage, saying that “For any restriction on the guaranteed right of freedom of expression to be legitimate, it must firstly be authorized by a specific law. There must also be adequate provision for a website that has been blocked to appeal and challenge the decision of MCMC.
The government’s action came at the end of a week during which it attempted to prove Brown had used documents allegedly doctored by Xavier Justo, a Swiss national now in jail in Thailand, to lay out detailed charges of massive fraud surrounding the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state-backed investment fund. According to local media, Justo downloaded 2 million emails from PetroSaudi International, a Middle Eastern oil exploration company through which stolen funds are alleged to have passed. Justo was once an officer of the company but was paid the equivalent of US$5 million to leave. Apparently he sought to sell the documents to the highest bidder in Singapore. Brown did not pay for them.
Brown, on the Sarawak Report page, called the commission’s action “a blatant attempt to censor our exposures of major corruption through the development fund 1MDB, including the information that nearly US$700 million of 1MDB-related money was paid into the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s personal AmBank account in KL just before the last election. This information has already long been disseminated and backed up by other major global news organizations, so we can only assume that the MCMC is fearful that we are about to bring out further revelations.”
The New Straits Times, owned by the United Malays National Organization, quoted a Thai police lieutenant general as saying Justo had confessed to doctoring emails he had obtained from PetroSaudi International. But the Associated Press reported that Thai officials had refused to share any information on Justo with Malaysia.
In any case the allegations against Brown were almost immediately knocked down today [July 20] by an equally detailed report by The Edge Financial Daily, Malaysia’s leading business publication, titled “How Jho Low & PetroSaudi schemed to steal money from the people of Malaysia via 1Mdb.” The article supports virtually every charge Brown has made against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the officials of 1MDB.