The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by the recent police raid on the offices of the online newspaper Malaysiakini, one of the few independent news outlets in Malaysia. Though police have not yet filed any charges against the publication, authorities said they are investigating the online paper for sedition.
Earlier today, January 21, at around 11 a.m., editor Steven Gan complied with an official order to appear in person at local police headquarters in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Following a three-hour interrogation session, Gan told reporters, "From the line of questioning, I have a strong belief that they will likely take action against me."
On January 20, responding to a complaint from the youth wing of the ruling United Malays National Party (UMNO), police from a special "computer crimes" department entered the Malaysiakini offices in Kuala Lumpur, interrogated several journalists present, and seized all of the company's computers, according to staff at the online paper. The police officers occupied the offices from noon until about 5:30 p.m. The Web site (www.malaysiakini.com) was operating again by about 10:00 p.m. that night.
Police Superintendent Mohamad Kamarrudin of the Computer Crimes Division told the staff at the online paper that the computers would be held and searched for evidence in a possible sedition case to be brought against Malaysiakini, according to sources at the company.
Pemuda-UMNO, the party's youth wing, had complained five days earlier to police about a letter Malaysiakini published on January 9. The letter, published anonymously, criticized the system of racial preferences that favors ethnic Malays in the country and also compared Pemuda-UMNO to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Pemuda-UMNO, in their police complaint, alleged that this letter was seditious and could incite racial hatred in the country.
During the police raid, officials had initially demanded that Malaysiakini reveal the identity of the letter's author. When Gan refused, officers began seizing the computers.
If authorities decide to pursue a sedition charge against Malaysiakini, the police could hold the company's computers indefinitely, making it difficult for the news organization to continue functioning, according to journalists at the paper. Sedition is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment; possession of seditious material is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.
Gan told reporters that the raid was an attempt to shut down Malaysiakini. It was a matter of journalistic principle, he added, that the paper not reveal the identity of the letter writer.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ deplores the raid on Malaysiakini as a direct attempt to censor the Internet, which has become one of the only means for citizens to access independent news and opinion. While your government exerts stringent controls over the print and broadcast media, Your Excellency told reporters in 2000 that, "We have accepted that the Internet should be free. And we are not going to interfere."
Malaysiakini has filled a void for its readers, allowing them access to uncensored news and information since it went online in 1999. In recognition of his work with Malaysiakini, editor Steven Gan received an International Press Freedom Award from CPJ in November 2000.
CPJ respectfully calls on Your Excellency's government to return Malaysiakini's property immediately and to drop the threat to pursue legal action against the company. By publishing letters from its readers and protecting its sources, Malaysiakini is upholding the internationally accepted standards of a free press in facilitating public discussion of controversial issues.
We thank you for your attention to this important matter and await your response.