KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Malaysia has blocked access to a popular news Web site that often runs afoul of authorities for its sensational political reporting, sparking complaints Thursday that the government has reneged on its pledge to keep cyberspace uncensored.
The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, the government's industry regulator, ordered local Internet service providers on Wednesday to cut off access to the Malaysia Today site, said a commission official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The site was deemed to have broken the law, the official said, adding that the commission would issue a formal statement with details later.
The site — which remains accessible through an alternative link — is run by one of Malaysia's feistiest online commentators, Raja Petra Raja Kamarudin, who has published numerous claims about alleged wrongdoing by government leaders.
Raja Petra was charged with sedition in May for allegedly implying the deputy prime minister was involved in the killing of a young Mongolian woman, and his trial begins in October. Government officials have repeatedly accused him of spreading malicious falsehoods.
"Blocking my site is a move by a desperate government that is trying to silence me, but it's not going to stop me," Raja Petra told The Associated Press. "It only reveals that the government does not know how to handle the Internet."
Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar defended the move, saying, "Everyone is subject to the law, even Web sites and blogs."
But the crackdown on Malaysia Today drew criticism from bloggers and journalists who accused authorities of seeking to deter dissent.
Wong Chun Wai, group chief editor of The Star, Malaysia's leading English daily, said the order to block Raja Petra's site was "myopic and ridiculous" and clashed with the government's promise not to censor the Internet.
"If it can happen to (Raja Petra), it can also happen to other bloggers," Wong wrote on his blog. "In a democracy, we don't have to agree with each other but we must defend the right of everyone to speak up — including (Raja Petra) and other voices of dissent."
Some of Malaysia's most popular Web sites and blogs offer fiercely anti-government commentaries, presenting themselves as an alternative to mainstream media, which are controlled by ruling political parties or closely linked to them.
Syed Hamid said the government does not "intend to curtail people's freedom or right to express themselves."
"But when they publish things that are libelous, slanderous or defamatory, it is natural for (authorities) to act," he was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper on its Web site.