It seemed like it was already too late for Internet users in Malaysia: Parliament passed a controversial amendment to the Evidence Act, known as Section 114A, in April. The country’s Minister of Law announced it in July.
That didn’t stop websites from hosting a SOPA-style blackout in protest Tuesday. And amazingly, it might have worked.
The language of Section 114A almost seems like it was written by someone who’s never been on the Internet. As the Center For Independent Journalism, which created a blog devoted to the protest, put it, “if allegedly defamatory content is traced back to your username, electronic device, and/or WiFi network, Section 114A presumes you are guilty of publishing illicit content on the Internet.”
And a late amendment made the bill even worse—it puts the burden of proof on the accused. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, “not only can you be held liable for someone else’s allegedly seditious comment on your website, or an anonymous comment posted using your open wifi connection, but it is up to you to prove that you didn’t do it.”
That the law has already passed didn’t stop dozens of prominent Malaysian sites from going on strike Tuesday, similiar to the way hundreds of American sites and countless users protested the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts (SOPA and PIPA) in January. Nineteen Malaysian news sites, including Free Malaysia Today, the most popular news site in the country, adopted a splash page with a cartoon warning users of what Section 114A could do.
Dozens more blogs, companies, and advocacy groups joined in. The Facebook group 1 Million Malaysians Against Evidence Act, which has more than 42,000 likes, encouraged people to change or black out their Facebook and Twitter avatars to support the protest.
In the waning hours of the protest, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who’s famous for his popular Twitter account, seemed to acknowledge not only that protesters have a point, but that it’s not too late to change Section 114A.
“I have asked Cabinet to discuss section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950,” he tweeted. “Whatever we do we must put people first.”
Photo via Facebook