Malaysian authorities block website of civil society group

Group had called for massive anti-government demonstrations this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, and two other cities

A member of the military wipes his face during rehearsals for Independence Day, or Merdeka Day, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia celebrates Independence Day on August 31st. Photograph: Reuters

A member of the military wipes his face during rehearsals for Independence Day, or Merdeka Day, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia celebrates Independence Day on August 31st. Photograph: Reuters

 

Malaysian authorities have blocked access to the website of a civil society group that called for massive anti-government demonstrations this weekend, while a domestic news portal said the military could intervene if the protests get out of hand.

Pro-democracy group Bersih is demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak over allegations of graft and financial mismanagement at debt-laden state fund 1MDB and a multi-million-dollar donation made into his personal account.

Bersih’s webpage, www.bersih.org, was not accessible in Malaysia on Friday, a day after the government said it would block sites that spread information and encourage people to join the two-day rally in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and two other cities.

Kuala Lumpur authorities have rejected Bersih’s application for a permit to protest, setting the stage for a possible showdown with security forces. Police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters at Bersih’s last big rally in 2012.

The Star newspaper said armed forces would intervene if the government declared a state of emergency during the rally. A military spokesman declined to comment on the report.

Security

On Friday, Najib criticised the rally organisers for holding the protest so close to independence day celebrations on Monday.

“There may be differences of opinion and belief among us, but the National Day should not be made a stage for political disputes,” he said in a blog post. “If they want to gather, they should pick a time and place that does not cause provocation.”

Najib has been embroiled in a political storm amid allegations of graft and financial mismanagement at state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), which is $11 billion in debt, and whose advisory board he chairs. In July, the Wall Street Journal reported that investigators looking into 1MDB found that nearly $700 million was deposited into Najib’s private bank account. Reuters has not verified the report.

Malaysia’s anti-graft agency has since verified the funds were a donation from the Middle East.

On August 3rd it said it would ask Najib to explain why the donation was deposited into his private account. Najib has denied wrongdoing and said he did not take any money for personal gain.

Last month, MCMC blocked a website critical of 1MDB and suspended two newspapers over articles on 1MDB.