20 January 2003
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
January 19, 2003
H.E. Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr Mahathir Mohamad
Pejabat Perdana Menteri Blok A
Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan Putrajaya 62502
Phone: 603 8888 8000
Fax 603 8888 3444,
The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), the Bangkok-based regional press advocacy group, condemns the police raid on the office of Malaysiakini, Malaysia’s independent Internet daily on 19 January 2003.
The noon raid was a grave violation of press freedom. It was totally unjustified and should be viewed as nothing but a crude attempt to muzzle Malaysiakini, which for the past three years has been a major source of unsanctioned news and information about Malaysia.
We have learned that more than ten police officers, two uniformed from Dang Wangi, raided the office and took away all 19 computers which the police believe contain confidential information, including the addresses of letter writers who had requested confidentiality. No staff was taken into police custody but Malaysiakini staff members are worried that they will be interrogated and charged. They could expect the worse if the internet’s operation has to be suspended during the investigation period.
The raid is believed to be linked to the internet daily’s report on January 9 which published a letter from an anonymous reader who was criticizing Malay rights and likening the youth wing of one of the ruling party’s coalition parties to the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan in America “Which was ready to kill other races”.
The youth wing group later filed complaint with police, accusing the report was seditious and that the letter, entitled “Similarities between ‘new Americans’ and bumiputera (indigenous people)” contained
false accusations and questioned special rights for Malays, thus possibly instilling hatred for the government.
SEAPA believes that the raid was unwarranted. Citizens in truly democratic states should be allowed to comment freely on politics and political parties. Indeed, the raid is nothing more than the latest in a series of attempts by Malaysian authorities to curtail free speech and to discourage Malaysiakini from reporting the facts and provide alternative opinion and information on Malaysian affairs.
Earlier, Malaysian officials had threatened to amend the Communication Act to allow authorities to censor Internet content. In the past, they had also banned Malaysiakini reporters from covering government news conferences.
SEAPA urges Malaysian authorities to apologize for the raid, return the computers and to withhold any legal sanctions against Malaysiakini. Unless they do so, the country’s international reputation would be gravely tarnished.