Raid a Blow to Press Freedom, Say Human Rights Groups

[Source: Malaysiakini.com]

Several local human rights organisations today urged the police to return the computer hardware seized from malaysiakini’s office during yesterday’s raid as soon as possible.

The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) said the police investigation and seizure of the 15 central processing units (CPU) and four servers should have been proportionate to the complaint lodged by Umno Youth.

“In an open and democratic society, the letter in question published by malaysiakini should have been replied in kind in an open forum,” said Hakam secretary-general Elizabeth Wong in a statement.

She also pointed out that Umno Youth chief Hishammuddin Hussein himself had voiced his opinion on the website previously.

“The state of press freedom in Malaysia is already being seriously questioned by various sectors of the Malaysian public and the international community,” she said, citing a press freedom index published last year by media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers which ranked Malaysia at 110th from a total of 139 countries.

“What has happened to malaysiakini bodes ill for the IT and freedom of speech and expression in this country,” she stressed.

Motive questioned

Penang-based social reform movement Aliran questioned the police’s motive for confiscating all the equipment.

“What legal or ethical right do the police have to violate malaysiakini’s privacy by probing their records, files and databases in an unrestricted fishing expedition?” its executive committee asked in a statement.

Aliran said there was no reason for the police to remove all the computers if the real issue was an investigation of sedition.

“Isn’t it usual for the police, based on mere analyses of specific utterances and statements, to pass the job of prosecution to the Attorney-General’s office?”

Commenting on the police’s inquiry into the identity of the letter writer, the movement said they should have applied to the courts.

“Didn’t certain Umno Youth elements threaten to burn down the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall? Did the police investigate Umno Youth then?

“Or is the issue a politically motivated attempt to cripple malaysiakini?”

Aliran felt the move may be prompted by the Umno succession issue and the impending general elections.

Backward step

Independent Media Activist Group (Kami) criticised the police for continuing to violate human rights and media freedom, especially following the demise of publications such as Detik, Ekslusif and Al-Wasilah in the last few years when the government revoked their permits.

“Now, it is the Internet media’s turn to be the target of the Barisan Nasional government,” said Kami spokesperson Fathi Aris Omar and Sonia Randhawa, spokesperson for the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in a joint statement.

They said the police action was at odds with the government’s ‘Love IT’ campaign and its promotion of the Multimedia Super Corridor.

“It is a backward step strongly criticised by the international community, including the IT industry.

“There is no doubt that our human rights and media freedom records will be further diminished by this incident,” they added.

In light of yesterday’s raid, both Kami and CIJ have urged other independent media activists, journalists, readers and supporters of malaysiakini, NGOs and supporters of political parties to show solidarity.

Selective efficiency

Meanwhile, local human rights group Suaram noted the police’s selective efficiency and promptness at investigating the Umno Youth report when there “are countless numbers lodged by victims of human rights violations which almost always go unnoticed”.

“We cannot but condemn and rebuke the double standard practices employed by the authorities and conclude that this entire operation is nothing but a politically-motivated one,” said Suaram executive director Cynthia Gabriel in a statement.

The raid was in response to a report lodged by Umno Youth last week against a letter published by malaysiakini which the movement claimed was seditious.

The hardware were seized when malaysiakini’s editor-in-chief Steven Gan refused to divulge the identity of the writer on the grounds of professional ethics.

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