THE Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) Malaysia and the Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) strongly condemn the government’s latest assault on constitutionally enshrined freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
The Home Ministry has just suspended two opposition newspapers — Harakah and Suara Keadilan — for three months, effective 23 March 2009, with no reason given in the suspension letters.
That same day, police fired tear gas at civilians, including children, to crack down on a by-election rally in Kedah.
While the ministry has the power to suspend publications without cause under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984, the suspensions are a violation of normal procedure. Publications are usually given a show cause letter prior to action being taken. (But no such warning was given in this case.)
This shows unseemly and unusual haste in suspending the publications, indicating that it is likely to be linked to the government’s unease over a controversial handover of power (from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Razak) and its apprehension over the three looming by-elections — in Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Batang Ai — on 7 April.
Each publication, Harakah and Suara Keadilan, claims a circulation of around 120,000. In February, both newspapers suffered seizures by Home Ministry officials for being sold in public spaces. We were unable to contact to the ministry for further clarification on the recent suspension.
CIJ and Wami also condemn the use of force against around 1,000 people gathered for a political speech in one of the by-election constituencies, Bukit Selambau in Sungai Petani, between 8.30pm and 10.30pm on 23 March.
Riot police fired tear gas at the gathering during the welcome remarks by the leader of the opposition, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Local news reports say police arrested at least 19 people, and many others were injured. Eyewitnesses claim that the police fired the tear gas at a crowd, including children, without any warning.
CIJ and Wami call for the suspensions of the newspapers to be lifted. In the face of this blatantly political use of the PPPA, we once again call for its repeal, for a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Freedom to be established, and for respect for Article 10 of the Constitution, which upholds freedom of expression.
We also call for an open investigation into police behaviour in Kedah to ensure that they acted to uphold the right to freedom of assembly.
Centre for Independent Journalism
Wong Chin Huat