(Updated on 11 Feb 2009 at 5pm)
Tian Chua holding a copy of Suara Keadilan
KUALA LUMPUR, 11 Feb 2009: Between 10,000 and 20,000 copies of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) mouthpiece Suara Keadilan have been seized by Home Ministry officials, mainly in the past three weeks.
Seizures of Harakah, the PAS party mouthpiece, have also occurred.
PKR information chief Tian Chua said that he feared a major crackdown of the media is coming.
“This latest development worries us. It may be a return to the Mahathir era, when the media was blocked. Media not belonging to the government is once again becoming the target,” Chua said, in a press conference today.
“We have never faced such a large operation, and all in the last month,” Chua added, saying that the widespread seizures could only mean that it was a systematic effort.
Beginning January 2009, officials from the Home Ministry’s Publications and Quranic Text Control Division have been seizing copies of Suara Keadilan nationwide, under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) 1984.
Targeted areas include Kedah, Sarawak, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur. Vendors have been served with letters warning them not to sell the publication, or face legal action. PKR has said that it would offer legal assistance to vendors should they face court action.
Chua said a reason for the confiscations might be Suara Keadilan‘s reports, which “make the BN uncomfortable”.
In recent weeks, the paper has focused on reporting the Pakatan Rakyat side of the Perak state turmoil.
SK Publications group editor Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, who was also at the press conference, speculated that the seizures may be connected to the 14-21 Jan edition of Suara Keadilan.
In that issue, the paper ran a cover story alleging that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had not kept development promises he made to mosques and suraus during the Permatang Pauh by-election in August last year.
Suara Keadilan is PKR’s official newspaper. Since the 12th general election, its circulation has grown to 150,000 per edition. The paper, originally a bi-weekly, has published weekly since September 2008.
On 11 Sept 2008, Suara Keadilan was issued a show-cause letter by the Home Ministry over a report which quoted sources as saying that former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan was paralysed, following a coronary bypass surgery. The paper apologised for the inaccurate report.
A “last warning” letter sent to a vendor in Johor Baru, and dated 22 Jan 2009, revealed that the publication had been seized under Section 5 (1) of the PPPA. The section prohibits the sale, circulation or distribution of “any newspaper printed in Malaysia or Singapore unless there has been granted by the Minister … a permit.”
Suara Keadilan‘s permit, which was issued in March 2008, is up for renewal in April. Chua predicted many obstacles to renewing the permit, and does not discount the possibility that the Home Ministry would revoke it altogether.
While Chua acknowledged that authorities were empowered by the PPPA to confiscate publications at their discretion, he affirmed that it was wrong to do so.
“Permits for newspapers should be renewed automatically, instead of this annual ordeal, where editors have to try to please the authorities just to [have] their permits renewed,” Chua said.
“The PPPA is actually obsolete,” Chua said, adding that the press law only served to widen the information gap between those who have access to the internet (which is relatively unregulated) and those that do not.
“Not a big thing”
Chua expressed regret at the actions of the Home Ministry.
“When I met with (Home Minister) Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, he gave his word that, as long as he was minister, he would be taking a relatively liberal stance in allowing a variety of voices,” Chua said.
“These actions show that he has not kept his word,” Chua added, saying that the party would write to the Home Ministry, and discuss the issue at the next parliamentary sitting.
Publications and Quranic Text Control Division secretary Che Din Yusoh, when contacted by The Nut Graph, characterised the seizures as “not a big thing”, and said the opposition party mouthpiece was seized because it breached the conditions of its permit.
“The paper is only supposed to be sold at their party headquarters, to party members. It is not supposed to be sold in public places,” Che Din said.
When asked why the seizures only occurred in the past month, Che Din denied any orchestrated effort or special conditions. “They are part of a routine operation. The Home Ministry carries out such inspections from time to time,” he explained.