Global Freedom of Expression

The Case of Sarawak Report and Malaysia Insider

In Progress Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    July 20, 2015
  • Outcome
    Administrative Measures/ Administrative Sanctions to protect FoE, Ban/Censorship, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Malaysia, Asia and Asia Pacific
  • Judicial Body
    Administrative Court
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law, Civil Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Content Regulation / Censorship, Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Political speech, Internet, Internet Service Providers, Blog, Whistleblowing

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In July 2015, after allegations of financial corruption in his administration had sparked national and international controversy, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s regime cracked down on a number of news outlets and blogs that had voiced criticism against the government. Among them, The Sarawak Report, a whistleblowing website founded and edited by British national Clare Rewcastle-Brown, disclosed a series of bribery and financial mismanagement within the government. In July 2015, the Communications and Multimedia Commission of Malaysia blocked the Report for allegedly having “unverified content.” Later in August, police issued an arrest warrant against Rewcastle-Brown for criminal offenses under Sections 124B and 124I of the Penal Code, which effectively prohibited her from re-entering the country.

Following that crackdown, a number of other news websites were shut down, including The Edge Financial Daily, Edge Weekly, Outsyed the Box, Din Turtle, the Asia Sentinel, Tabunginsider, Medium, the Malaysian Chronicle, and most recently, the widely read Malaysian Insider. According to the government, these blockages were justified under Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998. In March 2015, the Commission announced the indefinite suspension of the Insider.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.


On July 20, 2015, the Communications and Multimedia Commission of Malaysia issued an order to block Internet access to The Sarawak Report, a Malaysia-focused website that had been critical of the Malaysian government. In the weeks prior to the blockage, the Report had been particularly critical of Prime Minister Rajib Razak’s alleged siphoning of $700 million in government funds to his personal bank accounts. This alleged misappropriation was first exposed by the Wall Street Journal.

Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998 empowers the Commission to oversee the country’s communications industry, including granting or suspending media licenses. With respect to the Report, the Commission found the report about the prime minister as “unverified content,” that “could create unrest and threaten national stability, public order and economic stability.” It further alleged that the publication constituted offensive content in violation of Articles 211 and 233 of the Act. Under Article 211, “[n]o content applications service provider, or other person using a content applications service, shall provide content which is indecent, obscene, false, menacing, or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person.” Article 233 also sanctions the transmission of information that is “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person” by means of any network facilities.

Subsequently, an arrest warrant was issued against the Reporter’s founder and chief editor, Clare Rewcastle-Brown, a British-national who was out of the country at the time. The arrest warrant is not enforceable internationally, but has effectively prohibited her from re-entering Malaysia. The warrant alleges commission of offenses under Sections 124B and 124I of Malaysia’s Penal Code.

Decision Overview

Several groups, including the Malaysian Bar Association and the Centre for Independent Journalism, have condemned the Commission’s interpretation of the Act as applied to the Report, describing it unconstitutional. While the Malaysian Bar has urged the Commission to withdraw its decision, it is still unclear whether the case will be appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is monitoring the case for further developments.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

This case contracts freedom of expression because it up holds laws that would penalize information critical of the government so long as that information is characterized as impermissible according to Sections 124B and 124I of the Penal Code. This may include political speech or any other speech that the government dislikes.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

Reports, Analysis, and News Articles:

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