PETALING JAYA, 4 June 2009: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) has opposed calls to suspend Utusan Malaysia or charge its writers with the Sedition Act.
“Freedom of expression thrives in an environment where members of the public are free to agree and disagree among themselves, instead of censuring each other with restrictive laws,” said CIJ executive director V Gayathry in a statement today.
On 31 May, Utusan Malaysia published Melayu dikhianati under the Awang Selamat pen name. The column expressed hurt at “the demands of various non-Malay (Malaysian) groups”, and described Chinese Malaysian and Indian Malaysian communities as “kaum pendatang”.
The column drew strong criticism from both Samy Vellu as well as former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
“Statements such as Samy Vellu’s reveal a reflexive tendency to stop discussion about race relations,” Gayathry said, adding that the biggest Indian Malaysian political party should instead be playing a moderating role in such a discussion.
Gayathry stressed that open and civil discussions on race and religion were instrumental for nation building.
“But to ban certain views, especially by giving absolute powers to the state to censor, is a grave violation of freedom of expression,” Gayathry added, reiterating CIJ’s stand that restrictive laws on freedom of expression be repealed.
“We call on all political leaders and opinion leaders to emphasise the importance of dialogue and debates and refrain from demanding for the use of undemocratic laws,” Gayathry said.
She urged Utusan Malaysia editors to create spaces in the Malay-language daily for those with differing views and opinions on the issue, and show that it was interested in constructive engagement.