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Malaysian law stirs online 'blackout' protest

Activists, bloggers, and politicians alike in Malaysia have blacked out their pages -- reminiscent of the SOPA protest earlier this year in protest of a proposed U.S. law.

A '114A' banner that appeared on sites protesting the change in Malaysian law. Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism

Many high-profile Web sites in Malaysia are blacked out as part of a one-day protest against changes to a law that they say would restrict online freedom of speech.

Many home pages have been replaced with banners protesting the new amendment, dubbed "114A," to the Malaysian Evidence Act.

Revised in April, the Evidence Act 1950 was updated to include Section 114A, the "presumption of fact in publication," which critics claim would mean Web site administrators, Web hosting providers, Internet providers, and those who own a computer or mobile device "on which [content] was posted" would be held accountable for any "illicit" material -- such as defamatory, seditious, or libelous content -- posted online.

The Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism describes one scenario that could unfold under the provision:

Eateries that provide free wireless Internet access to their customers, for example, are accountable for illicit images, tweets, Facebook posts, or blog updates published on its network. To avoid being held responsible under Section 114A of the Evidence Act, restaurants providing free Wi-Fi may unwarrantedly monitor its customers' Internet activities or stop providing access to the Internet altogether, which would be detrimental to their business and profitability.

The revised law means Malaysians could also be charged under the law if their devices are stolen and illicit content is posted, or Web sites are hacked and defaced with defamatory content.

In a video by the Malaysian Centre for Independent Journalism, it claims that by putting the burden of proof on Internet users the amendment goes against the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.

The CIJ gives one example of a user creating an account under another person's name and posting content that would land that named person in trouble:

Malaysian officials denied the law change was designed or meant to silence political opponents and government critics ahead of elections, according to the BBC.

The online blackout is reminiscent of similar protests held across the world against the proposed U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in January, in which major Web sites, including Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit, shuttered or visibly marked their pages during the day.

SOPA was subsequently shelved a couple of days later to "address outstanding concerns."