Malaysian police arrest editors, executives of news portal

Bangkok, March 31, 2015–Police have detained three editors and two executives of The Malaysian Insider news portal in Malaysia’s Kelantan state and accused them of sedition, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for the immediate and unconditional release of those arrested.

Police on Monday raided the offices of The Malaysian Insider on the outskirts of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and arrested Lionel Morais, managing editor of the portal; Amin Shah Iskandar, the Bahasa-language news editor; and Zulkifli Sulong, the features and analysis editor, The Malaysian Insider reported. Police and officials from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission searched an editor’s computer before making the arrests, news reports said.

Police today arrested Malaysian Insider Chief Executive Jahabar Sadiq and Ho Kay Tat, publisher of the portal’s parent company The Edge Media Group, after the two arrived at Kuala Lumpur’s Dang Wangi police station to make statements about the editors’ arrests the day before, according to news reports.

The arrests stemmed from a Malaysian Insider report on March 25 that claimed a senior council comprising royal rulers and state governors, known as the Conference of Rulers, had rejected a proposal to amend federal law to allow for the introduction of hudud, or punishments meted out under Islamic law, according to The Malaysian Insider. A council representative filed a police report on March 26, denying that the Conference of Rulers had discussed or ruled on the issue, news reports said.

The youth wing of the ruling United Malays National Organization party also filed a police complaint over the report, news reports said. On March 19, UMNO state representatives passed an amendment to state law to allow the introduction of hudud in Kelantan state, but the penal code cannot be enacted without changes to federal law, reports said.

The five have been accused under the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act’s Section 233, which relates to the misuse of computer networks. If convicted, they face up to three years in jail, the reports said.

The Malaysian Insider reported that it could also have been targeted in connection with other reports it had published, including critical accounts of the government’s management of a state investment fund.

“The arrest of Malaysian Insider editors and executives on bogus sedition and computer crime accusations aims ultimately to curb the independent news site’s critical reporting on sensitive topics,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Instead of using punitive and vague laws to threaten media critics, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government should be working to scrap them. As long as the Sedition Act is on the books, Malaysian journalists will work in fear of arbitrary arrest and politically motivated criminal charges.”

Malaysia’s sedition law has increasingly been used to silence media criticism and political dissent. Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Awar Ulhaque, also known as Zunar, was accused under the law in connection with his portrayals of political figures, including a recent book of cartoons focused on Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and the trial of recently jailed political opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges.

Najib pledged to repeal the Sedition Act in mid-2012 as part of a raft of political reforms, according to press reports. He reversed that vow in a November 27, 2014, speech, saying his government would instead strengthen the law with a special clause “to protect the sanctity of Islam.”

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