An Open letter to the PM on Freedom of Expression
from: Sonia Randhawa (CIJ)
Since this letter was written (last weekend) four freedom of expression violations have taken place, warnings to the media to tone down reports on crime and violence; 12 teenagers arrested for looking like Black Metal fans; police visit to Malaysiakini; and the decision by the International Malaysia Studies Conference not to proceed with a forum on religion, interfaith and national unity.
Please read the letter below, and if you agree with the contents, please send an endorsement to waifong [at] cijmalaysia.org, with your name and designation.
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi,
Ministry of Internal Security,
Blok D1 & D2, Parcel D, Pusat Pentadbiran & Kerajaan Persekutuan,
Dear Datuk Seri,
Re: Upholding Article 10 of the Constitution
Open Letter to the Prime Minister: ‚ÄòEvery citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression‚Äù
We, the undersigned, are alarmed at the numerous infringements of the right to freedom of speech and __expression that have taken place in 2006. The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed under the Constitution.
We urge the Prime Minister to show his respect for the Constitution by:
1. Immediately desisting from political interference in the media
2. Repealing all legislation that infringes freedom of __expression
3. Denouncing those who infringe freedom of __expression through the use of threats, intimidation or violence.
The following is a chronological list of the violations that have occurred in 2006:
1. Political interference in China Press on the grounds of unethical reporting
Using the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Internal Security Ministry requested that Chinese-language daily China Press show cause why action should not be taken against them for an inaccurate report. The action had the knock-on effect of intimidating other media from reporting on potential abuses of power by the police.
2. Raid on ‘Paul’s Place’ on New Year’s Eve
A punk music gig was raided on New Year’s Eve with 388 young people arrested. Initially, they were told that they were arrested for attending a ‘black metal’ concert. This was not illegal at the time. They were later told that they were being arrested for being at an unlicensed venue. However, people who were not in the venue were also arrested. The aftermath of the raid saw inaccurate and fanciful reporting on the gig, targeting a marginalised group.
3. Non-renewal of Oriental Daily News permit
Chinese daily Oriental Daily News had the renewal of its permit delayed. The permit was only given after several columnists had their columns stopped.
4. Non-renewal of Suara Keadilan permit Opposition party organ Suara Keadilan did not receive a permit to publish.
5. Indefinite suspension of Sarawak Tribune The Sarawakian English-language newspaper was suspended indefinitely following a decision to publish the Danish cartoons showing the Prophet Muhammad.
6. Suspension of Guang Ming Daily The afternoon edition of the Chinese-language daily was suspended for two weeks after publishing a photograph showing a placard depicting cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
7. Suspension of Berita Petang The Sarawakian Chinese-language daily was suspended following the publication of an allegedly seditious article.
8. Threats against other media for re-printing images containing images or references to the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad The New Straits Times English-language daily and State-owned free-to-air television channel TV2 were threatened with action over images related to the Danish cartoon issue.
9. Banning of Mak Yong performances in Kelantan The Kelantan state government banned private as well as public performances of Mak Yong just three months after UNESCO classified it as world cultural heritage.
10. Revival of debate on a legislated media council Repeated calls have been made for a legislated media council. In an already over-regulated system, this is merely one more mechanism of control.
11. Closure of KakiKino film club The KakiKino club showed art films at the National Film Development Body (Finas). A member of the public complained that ‘pornography’ was being shown, and the club was closed.
12. Halting performance of Satu Kali Performance art presentation Satu Kali was halted following a police report lodged by a single member of the audience.
13. Banning of Lelaki Komunis Terakhir A semi-musical documentary/ travelogue based on the places important in the life of the Malayan Communist Party leader Chin Peng. This was banned following a series of attacks made by people who had not even watched the movie.
14. Threats against Tamil newspaper Makkal Osai Following reports on a speech made by political leader Datuk Seri Samy Vellu, the Tamil-language daily Makkal Osai received threats of having its offices torched, had copies of its newspaper publicly burned and had a defamation suit threatened.
15. Police attack on MerdekaReview.com journalist Police attacked a Chinese-language online journalist covering a peaceful demonstration. Lim Hong Siang was kicked by police, and threatened with confiscation of his camera, after identifying himself as a reporter.
16. Banning of 33 books under the Printing Presses and Publications Act Eighteen books, primarily on religion, were banned for presenting a threat to ‘peace and harmony’ and a further 15 books were banned for pornographic content. The former included books on comparative religion, academic texts and a book on Kundalini yoga.
17. Closure of Chinese-language talk-back radio programme A programme on State-owned station Ai FM was pulled. The last show included a discussion on controversial initiatives on Chinese-language education.
18. Banning forums on upholding the Constitution, organised by the Article 11 coalition Forums on upholding the Constitutional right to freedom of religion were banned following threats and intimidation by members of the public who saw the forums as an attack on Islam and Malay privileges.
19. Banning media coverage of the forums on upholding the Constitution A ban was issued on the coverage of the forums being organised by Article 11, and on issues of race and religion.
20. Threats made against the media by the Information Minister Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin issued a strongly worded statement condemning some of the print media, and later reiterated the desire to control online media.
21. ‘Police permit’ required for DAP forum Opposition party DAP had a forum on race relations cancelled, after the venue told them that they needed a police permit, in contravention to established practice.
In addition to these violations, there also appear to have been media black-outs on various issues of public importance, including actions against interference in the media, demonstrations against fuel price hikes and statements by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
We hold that the state, belonging equally to all, should not privilege one opinion over another, whether political, cultural or religious. We believe the only way to hold together a society as diverse as Malaysia is to promote peaceful dialogue and rational debate. Freedom of expression is a pre-requisite for such dialogue and debate, and suppressing freedom in pursuit of harmony will attain neither. Allowing violence and intimidation to be used to silence dissidents instead plants the seeds of division and disharmony.
We urgently request that you uphold the Constitution and undertake changes to safeguard freedom of expression. This requires a thorough review of legislation that inhibits communication rights, including the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act.
please send an endorsement to waifong [at] cijmalaysia.org, with your name and designation.