Sarawak Report website down worldwide amid suspected hacking attempt

Protestors against The Sarawak Report editor and founder Clare Rewcastle Brown.
Protestors against The Sarawak Report editor and founder Clare Rewcastle Brown. PHOTO: THE STAR PUBLICATION

KUALA LUMPUR - The Sarawak Report whistleblower website, already blocked in Malaysia after publishing corruption allegations against Prime Minister Najib Razak, was down globally on Sunday amid a suspected hacking attempt, its editor said.

The Britain-based site was displaying a "503 service unavailable" message when accessed on Sunday morning. It appeared to be back up and running by the afternoon.

The Malaysian Insider news portal cited the Sarawak Report's editor and founder Clare Rewcastle Brown as saying she suspected the site was down due to a hacking attempt.

The site had been blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) last Monday.

The MCMC had made the move on the grounds that the site could undermine the country's stability after it made allegations of abuse of public funds surrounding the scandal-hit state company 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB),whose advisory board is chaired by Najib.

The government had said the allegations were made based on tampered company documents.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Saturday said Brown might be extradited to Malaysia, following from the results of an ongoing police investigation into the allegations. 

In response, Brown said  she and her staff  cannot be extradited to Malaysia as they have not committed any crime in Britain, The Star reported. 

"Sarawak Report has not committed a crime recognisable in the UK (any more than in Malaysia), so how can we be extradited?" questioned  Brown on Sunday. 

She also questioned whether she could be extradited if she was to face sedition charges in Malaysia. 

"As for 'sedition', this has not been prosecuted in the UK for hundreds of years and it was abolished as a crime by the present Prime Minister - so he is unlikely to be enthusiastic about the idea if UK citizens are being tried for it elsewhere.” 

She added: “No one in Malaysia has ever successfully defined what sedition means anyway...Is reporting a crime sedition if it annoys powerful people?".

In addition to the block imposed in Malaysia on the Sarawak Report website, the Home Ministry on  Friday suspended for three months the publishing permits of two business papers published by The Edge Media Group. Home Ministry secretary-general Alwi Ibrahim said the permits were temporarily suspended because the publisher had violated the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

Both Sarawak Report and The Edge have been implicated by Swiss national Xavier  Justo, a former executive at PetroSaudi International, after he admitted to passing gigabytes of data to the publications. PetroSaudi is an early joint-venture partner of 1MDB. 

On Sunday, the ruling Barisan Nasional strategic communications director Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan — who has been critical of the Sarawak Report website — said the Home Ministry's decision to ban The Edge publications was the  right move, The Star reported. 

He said there just were too many "what ifs" regarding the information brought forward by The Edge to take it at face value, adding that The Edge should have handed over the alleged stolen documents it received from Justo to the authorities for investigations from the start.

"Pending the outcome of ongoing investigation, the best option for the government was to suspend them (the publications) temporarily," wrote the Urban Wellbeing, Housing, and Local Government Minister in his official Facebook page on Sunday.

"Given the dramatic turn of events, we could not just simply swallow whatever excuse The Edge is saying now," he added.

He also said  the suspension was not a way to suppress the investigation into the 1MDB scandal as there was already a multi-agency task force probe into the issue. 

"In fact investigations by the PAC, Auditor-General, MACC, PDRM and BNM are gathering steam and getting busier by the day. They cannot and must not be stopped," he added.