Prime Minister Najib Razak promises legal reforms. (Reuters)
Prime Minister Najib Razak promises legal reforms. (Reuters)

CPJ welcomes Malaysian reform vow

Bangkok, September 16, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s vow to abolish the Printing Presses and Publishing Act, and urges his administration to follow through with additional press freedom-related reforms.

On Thursday, during an Independence Day national address, Najib vowed to dismantle two harsh security-related laws–the Internal Security Act and the Emergency Ordinance–and ease legal restrictions on civil liberties, including the right to assembly, international press reports said. He has also vowed to abolish the Printing Presses and Publications Act so that newspapers do not have to reapply annually for permission to publish. The Home Ministry previously had sole discretion over whether to renew newspapers’ operating licenses, and its often arbitrary decisions could not be legally appealed.

“The repeal of the Printing Presses and Publishing Act is long overdue. We commend Prime Minister Najib Razak for vowing to remove such a substantial barrier to Malaysia’s press freedom,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Next, his government should prioritize the abolishment of other laws that threaten journalists, including the Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act.”

Najib’s move is regarded by some as an attempt to boost support for his UMNO party after it lost ground at the 2008 election, according to news reports. The move is also seen as an attempt to remake the party’s image in a more liberal and democratic way, news reports said. Two months ago, police arrested 1,400 from a crowd of 20,000 protesters marching for electoral reforms in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in the biggest political rally the country had seen in years, news reports said.

Najib’s promise of legal reforms must still be approved by the legislature, which his ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party dominates. 

In recent years, authorities have resorted to various security-related laws, including the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act, to curb through the threat of imprisonment alternative news and views that have burgeoned on the Internet.