Categorised | Letters to the Editor

Problematic licensing laws hamper freedom of expression

THE Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) are concerned about the confiscation of a cartoon magazine on current issues edited by prominent cartoonist Zunar. The confiscation smacks of harassment and censorship of discussion of current issues.

On 25 Aug, officials from the Control of Publication Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs seized copies of the inaugural issue of Gedung Kartun from the publisher’s office in Kuala Lumpur. According to chief editor Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, more than 400 copies were seized.

When contacted by CIJ, the department’s assistant secretary Abdul Razak Abdul Latif said the magazine was confiscated “primarily” due to the lack of a publication permit, as well as for content “checking”. He was unable to confirm the number of copies seized.

However, Zunar disputed the lack of permit as the reason, claiming that he had verbally obtained the permit serial number. He said the officers insisted on confiscating the magazines despite his having informed them of the verbal permission. Zunar said he was then told to ask for an official letter on the status of the permit.

The permit requirement for publications is legislated under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. Failure to meet the requirement can result in imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to RM20,000.

The confiscation is a form of harassment against those who publish alternative interpretations of current events. Zunar is a long-time contributor to online news site Malaysiakini and is well-known for his political cartoons. Gedung Kartun, a bi-weekly slated for the market in September, features drawings that discuss the controversial death of Teoh Beng Hock at the Selangor Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) office, as well as one involving the Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Zunar said the magazine is about alternative humour.

The action once again shows how the licensing regime is used arbitrarily to control expression. The employment of such law does not inspire confidence with Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s announcement that the law will be reviewed to keep up with the demands of the people.

To show that the minister appreciates the people’s criticism of the law, he should stop any further practices of harsh measures such as the arbitrary confiscation of publications.

CIJ and Wami urge the ministry to return copies of Gedung Kartun to its publisher so that it can be made available to the public. We also urge the ministry to reveal its plan for the supposed review of the PPPA, and to include civil society in its consultations.

Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Directo
r, CIJ

Wong Chin Huat
Chairperson, Wami

25 Aug 2009

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