Letters   |   Malaysia

Malaysia: Government threatens to close five independent papers

His Excellency Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister
Jabatan Perdana Menteri
Jalan Dato' Onn
Kuala Lumpur 50502
Malaysia

VIA FAX: +60-3-238-3784

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the Ministry of Home Affairs' recent threats to close five Malaysian publications, including the widely-read opposition biweekly Harakah.

In a letter dated December 24, 1999, the home ministry accused Harakah, the newspaper of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), of ignoring the terms of its publishing license by selling to non-party members. The ministry has ordered PAS to stop distributing Harakah via public newsstands by January 8.
The home ministry apparently retaliated against Harakah for its critical coverage of the arrest and trial of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim last year. These events broadened Harakah's readership considerably and established it as a source of alternative news on the trial and other politically sensitive subjects.

Also on December 24, the privately financed, pro-opposition fortnightly Detik received a show-cause notice from the home ministry asking management to state reasons why Detik's publishing permit should not be revoked. Detik allegedly broke the terms of its license by failing to inform the ministry of its new chief editor's appointment, by not printing a mailing address on its masthead, and by transferring its permit to another publishing company without the ministry's consent. Detik's license expired in December and has yet to be renewed. The delay has disrupted Detik's publication schedule, causing the magazine to miss three issues since December.

Detik's new sister publication, Wasilah, also received a show-cause notice that day. The ministry warned the monthly magazine that it must abide by the terms of its license by publishing under its full name, Al Wasilah.

Two other publications received similar threats this past fall. In an October 28 letter, the home ministry accused the monthly opposition magazine Tamadun of publishing material that "could cause hatred among the people towards the government," according to the online publication Malaysiakini.com. And soon after the November 1999 elections, the ministry accused the independent weekly tabloid Eksklusif of "spreading rumors."

Your government's use of licensing regulations to intimidate local media clearly violates international standards of press freedom and severely restricts the Malaysian public's ability to evaluate important issues facing the country. CPJ therefore urges the government of Malaysia to repeal the 1984 Printing Press and Publications Act, under which publishing permits must be renewed annually.

Malaysia's few pro-opposition publications provide a necessary counterbalance to your country's government-controlled mainstream press. In the absence of such alternative voices, Malaysia cannot be called a democratic state. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ urges your government to retract its threats against Harakah, Detik, Wasilah, Tamadun, and Eksklusif, and asks you to ensure that all five periodicals may continue to publish freely.

We appreciate your attention to these urgent matters, and await your response.


Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director



Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Malaysia

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His Excellency Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister
Jabatan Perdana Menteri
Jalan Dato' Onn
Kuala Lumpur 50502
Malaysia

VIA FAX: +60-3-238-3784

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