June 7, 2018
His Excellency Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister of Malaysia
Prime Minister's Office
Federal Government Administration Center
Bangunan Perdana Putra, Putrajaya 62502
Tel: +60 3 8888 8000; Facsimile: +60 3 8888 3444; Sent by facsimile
Dear Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-partisan, independent press freedom organization, congratulates you on your May 9 election victory. In line with promises made during your campaign, CPJ calls on your government to prioritize the promotion and protection of press freedom, and to immediately take action to repeal the recently enacted "fake news" law and other restrictive legislation.
As you are aware, the government of your predecessor, Najib Razak, maintained antagonistic relations with the independent media through frequent harassment, intimidation, and threats. In 2015, CPJ honored Malaysian editorial cartoonist Zulikiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, for his bravery in the face of persistent government threats, including sedition charges for critical portraits authorities considered "detrimental to public order."
We were encouraged to learn that your government has lifted restrictions on Zunar's travel that have been in place for nearly two years. We urge your government to follow through by lifting the bans imposed on nine of his political cartoon volumes and dropping the nine sedition charges still pending against him related to his pictorial journalism.
The Najib government's harassment of the media culminated in the April 2018 passage of a "fake news" law that allows for six-year prison penalties and 500,000 ringgit (US$125,000) fines for "news, information, data, and reports which is or are wholly or partly false." This overly broad and arbitrary provision covers print, visuals, and audio recordings.
Journalists should never face prison time or punitive fines for doing their work. We encourage you to repeal the law immediately--as you pledged to do during the campaign--rather than redefine it, as you indicated was your intention in a post-election press interview. We note that your communications and multimedia minister, Gobind Singh Deo, said on May 21 that the law would be repealed within the government's first 100 days.
Similarly, we call on your government to repeal Section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which criminalizes the use of network facilities for communications that could be deemed by authorities as "offensive, false or obscene." Convictions under the law allow for one-year prison sentences and fines.
Government authorities used the law to charge independent news site Malaysiakini for airing live a July 27, 2016, press conference on its affiliated KiniTV news station related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal implicating Najib. We ask that your government move quickly to abolish this law, and immediately and unconditionally drop the pending charges against Malaysiakini Editor-in-Chief Steven Gan and Chief Executive Officer Premesh Chandran.
CPJ was heartened by your campaign pledge to abolish laws that restrict press freedom, and it is our earnest hope that you will take this historic opportunity to build a legacy as a champion of a free media in Malaysia.
Thank you for your attention.