March 29, 2000
His Excellency Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Jabatan Perdana Menteri
Jalan Dato' Onn
Kuala Lumpur 50502
VIA FAX: +60-3-238-3784
On March 27, the Home Ministry officially notified Detik that its publication license would not be renewed. The license had expired in December, forcing Detik to suspend publication and suffer major financial losses while awaiting action on its application for renewal. As you know, under Malaysia's Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, all publications are required to renew their publishing licenses annually. The Home Ministry oversees publication permits in Malaysia, and there is no judicial review of ministerial decisions on media licensing.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the effective banning of the independent bimonthly magazine Detik, whose publishing license has been cancelled by your government.
According to Detik's editor-in-chief, Ahmad Lutfi Othman, another magazine, al-Wasilah, which is part of the same group, will likely also lose its permit to publish when it comes up for renewal in August. "We hope the ministry will be more rational in the future. We may have criticized the government occasionally but we never intended to break the law," Lutfi told reporters after the Home Ministry announced its decision.
The action against Detik, which has a reputation in Malaysia as a critical but independent magazine, follows the government's March 1 decision to restrict the circulation of Harakah, a popular opposition party newspaper, from twice weekly to two editions a month. Harakah has been a popular source of news and commentary on the ongoing trial of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ deplores the banning of Detik. Malaysia's harsh licensing regime and other press controls violate internationally recognized standards of free expression, and the recent actions against Detik and Harakah indicate an apparent unwillingness on the part of your government to tolerate any alternative views in popular media.
By restricting the press, Malaysia does a disservice to its people, setting strict limits on the public discourse that is essential to democratic nations. We respectfully call on Your Excellency to lift the ban on Detik and to allow all media in Malaysia to operate freely and openly.
We await your response.
Ann K. Cooper