May 14, 2009
His Excellency Najib Razak
Prime Minister of
Office of the Prime Minister
Federal Government Administrative Centre
Via facsimile: 011-603-8888-3444
Dear Prime Minister Najib,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to express its longstanding
CPJ welcomed your decision, announced during your first national address as prime minister on April 3, to remove the three-month ban imposed in March on two widely read opposition-aligned newspapers, Harakah and Suara Keadilan. Your April 6 speech to the Malaysian Press Institute, in which you acknowledged and promoted the media's role in articulating diverse political views and building democracy, also sent a positive signal of reform.
We were especially heartened to learn of your publicly stated intention to launch a comprehensive review of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA), which has been used by previous governments to harass and sometimes imprison journalists and broadly suppress freedom of expression in the name of upholding national security.
At the same time, your government has taken repressive actions that, in our view, represent a clear danger to journalists and their ability to cover important news events. That includes this month's mass arrest of more than 80 opposition politicians, activists, and others who opposed your government's attempt to seize control of the state legislative assembly in the northern state of Perak, according to international news reports.
We were troubled to learn that journalists and press freedom advocates were among
those arrested and detained, including Wong Chin Huat, a writer, academic and
chairman of the Writer's
At least two journalists, Law Tech Hao, the editor of Suara Keadilan,
and Josh Hong, a political columnist at Malaysiakini, a leading online
news service, were arrested on May 6 while covering a candlelight vigil for
Wong held in front of a
The arrest and harassment of Hong, a prominent online commentator, continues a disturbing trend of denying Internet freedom. Outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's administration, in which you served as deputy prime minister, backtracked on a prior government commitment to maintain an uncensored Internet. In the process, his government cracked down hard on high-profile bloggers, including Malaysia Today founder and prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin. He was jailed last year under the ISA for his critical online writings and now faces additional criminal defamation and sedition charges--all of which carry possible jail terms for guilty convictions.
You have vowed in your public addresses to work toward establishing "One Malaysia," a call for reform that, as you put it in your April 3 inaugural address, aims to put "people first." CPJ believes that a meaningful step in that direction would entail comprehensive changes to the many laws and policies that have long been applied to undermine press freedom in your country.
We call on you to rescind the renewable licensing system for print
publications, which governments typically employ to pressure editors and
journalists to soften and self-censor their news coverage. CPJ also asks
that you move to abolish the ISA, Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, and
criminal defamation laws--all of which give legal precedence to notions of national
security over press freedom. We also advocate that you restore
CPJ strongly believes that your new government is uniquely placed to democratize