Malaysian journalist detained, threatened with sedition

Bangkok, September 10, 2014–Authorities in Malaysia should halt their investigation into Malaysiakini reporter Susan Loone who could face sedition charges in connection with a critical article she published in early September, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Loone was detained and interrogated by police for more than nine hours on September 4, according to reports. She was released on bail and is being investigated under the 1948 Sedition Act, Malaysiakini Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan told CPJ. Loone, who has not yet been formally charged, has to report back to the police on October 3, Gan said.

The investigation is in connection with a story Loone published on September 1 after a phone interview with Penang State executive councilor Phee Boon Poh, who has been detained on charges related to leading an illegal organization, according to local reports. Loone cited Phee, an opposition leader, as saying he was being treated like a criminal in police custody.

Convictions under Malaysia’s colonial-era 1948 Sedition Act carry up to three years in prison and/or a 5,000 ringgit (US$1,562) fine, according to reports. In 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced his plan to abolish the law, but has not yet fulfilled his pledge, according to reports.

“Rather than using the Sedition Act to threaten journalists, Prime Minister Najib Razak should follow through on his pledge to repeal the outdated law,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “His government’s abuse of the law is a clear and present danger to press freedom.”

Malaysiakini, one of the country’s few independent news sources, is frequently threatened with sedition and other legal charges punishable by imprisonment for reporting critically on the government, CPJ research shows. On May 30, the prime minister filed a civil libel suit against Malaysiakini over critical user comments posted to two news articles about an opposition bid to take legislative control of Terengganu state, according to local reports. Najib is seeking damages, an apology, and a court injunction against republishing the comments that he said on May 16 were “defamatory and seditious,” news reports said.

In recent weeks, Najib’s government has used the sedition law to target opposition politicians, academics, and activists, according to news reports. Authorities have cracked down on the political opposition as it seeks to gain parliamentary control of a pivotal state and weaken the government’s grip on power.