Government shuts down newspaper for one month

AUGUST 24, 2007
Posted August 29, 2007

Makkal Osai

The government ordered the month-long closure of Makkal Osai, a Tamil-language newspaper, for publishing a picture of Jesus holding a cigarette and what appears to be a can of beer. The Internal Security Ministry suspended the paper’s publication permit after the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a predominantly Hindu Tamil political party that is part of the ruling coalition, called for strong action against the paper. Makkal Osai has been critical of the MIC, which owns a rival paper.

Makkal Osai published the offending illustration on August 21, as part of the daily’s regular “Thought for the Day” feature, which highlights famous quotations from world leaders and philosophers. The accompanying quote read: “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them.” The newspaper said that it had printed the picture by mistake after a staff member downloaded it from the Internet, and published a front-page apology the next day. The staff member concerned was reportedly suspended indefinitely.

In its suspension notice to the newspaper, the ministry said the daily had violated guidelines under the Printing Presses and Publications Act. According to the online newspaper Malaysiakini, the ministry stated: “Makkal Osai’s decision to publish the image was inappropriate and was insensitive to the multiracial and multicultural society. Such an action could breach the national security.”

However, many Christian and interfaith leaders, including the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, said they had accepted the newspaper’s front-page apology and expressed surprise at the paper’s closure. The president of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism, A Vaithilingam, told Malaysiakini that after consulting with Christian leaders in the council, the group had advised the government that a written warning to the newspaper would be sufficient. The council found the suspension to be a “drastic” measure.