Editor of Leading Malaysian Newspaper Resigns
Under Pressure from Government

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His Excellency
Dato'Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister
Jabatan Perdana Menteri
Jalan Dato' Onn
Kuala Lumpur 50502


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15 July 1998


Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by reports that the group editor-in-chief of Malaysia's most influential publishing company has resigned under political pressure from the ruling party. Johan Jaafar, who oversees the leading Malay-language daily newspaper Utusan Malaysia, was pressured to resign his post by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party which you head, according to news reports and CPJ sources. He submitted his resignation on July 14.

Malaysian journalists say that recent reports in Utusan Malaysia have proven embarrassing to some UMNO party leaders. For example, prominent coverage was given to severe operational problems at Malaysia's new airport. And the newspaper is perceived to have sided with Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in its coverage of intraparty struggles over political and economic reform. The paper is part of the Utusan Melayu (Malaysia) Bhd. group, whose stock is largely owned by UMNO.

CPJ has long been concerned that the Malaysian press is hamstrung by strict licensing regulations and a pattern of ownership that gives the ruling UMNO party overwhelming control of the popular press. The result has been a media culture largely marked by self-censorship and what some Malaysian journalists call a "speak no evil" approach to sensitive issues.

It is alarming that even the mild criticisms raised by Utusan Malaysia in recent weeks seem to have encountered political pressure. With a daily circulation of 250,000, Utusan Malaysia is a crucial press voice in Malaysia and we fear that the resignation of Jaafar may be the beginning of a crackdown against attempts by the Malaysian press to print independent views.

As a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the protection of press freedom worldwide, CPJ believes that the best path to democratic reform and economic progress is through the open debate afforded by a free press. In that light, we respectfully request your government to clarify the role that the UMNO leadership played in Jaafar's resignation. In addition, we urge you to reassure journalists in Malaysia that the resignation does not signal increased sanctions against journalists who scrutinize your leadership.

We appreciate your attention and await your response.


Yours Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director