Suhakam To the Defence

21 January 2003

Human rights commissioner Prof Hamdan Adnan today described yesterday’s police raid on the malaysiakini office in Kuala Lumpur as a measure to silence critical views and political dissent.

He said that “state power should not be abused” to clamp down on malaysiakini, which has been in operation since November 1999.

Hamdan viewed the police action as a violation of press freedom, based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights — Article 19 provides the right to freedom of speech. Malaysia has ratified the declaration.

On Umno Youth’s police report last Friday against malaysiakini, which led to the raid being mounted, Hamdan said the movement could have sued the editor if it had felt slighted by the letter that was posted.

The letter, published on Jan 9, purportedly questioned Malay special rights and equated members of the Youth wing to the Ku Klux Klan of the US.

“Umno Youth is too sensitive. Why don’t they sue you (malaysiakini) for defamation instead of abusing state power to clamp down on the organisation,” he said, when contacted today.

“We have a right to information. Certain things like critical views should be out in the open. With new technology (Internet) we cannot expect to keep these away.”

Hamdan urged the police to exercise “proper cause of action and proper reasoning” instead of “showing force” which could jeorpadise the livelihood of malaysiakini employees.

He felt that the police action would lead to more journalists becoming discontented with their profession and having no choice but to take their issues to platforms outside the country.

Caution required

Energy, Communications and Multimedia ministry parliament secretary Chia Kwang Chye, when contacted, said he remained optimistic that there would be no censorship of Internet content.

He said this is guaranteed under the Multimedia and Communications Act 2000 and the bill of guarantee. The legislation is under review to encourage self-regulation by content providers.

However, Chia, who is also Gerakan secretary-general, also cautioned that content providers have to be responsible as they are still subject to laws such as the Sedition Act 1948.

Asked if the police action was a tactic to curb free speech, Chia said that the “no censorship guarantee” on web site content also invites “the other party to come into play”.

“This is where civil and criminal laws apply to prevent people from spreading false news or information,” he added.

Raid on office

Dang Wangi district police, reacting to a report lodged by Umno Youth last Friday, seized 15 CPUs (central processing units) and four servers worth RM150,000 for “forensic examination” from the Malaysiakini office in Bangsar Utama yesterday afternoon.

The 10-member team led by Supt Mohd Kamaruddin Md Din (right), head of Bukit Aman’s computer crimes unit, arrived unannounced at about 12.30pm and left at about 4pm. The operation disabled editorial operations for about 10 hours, but the first post-raid reports were up by 10.30pm.

Malaysiakin is Malaysia’s only independent online news daily. Unlike the print and electronic media, it is free of licensing requirements.

The government has pledged there would be no control of Internet content in line with the move to create the Multimedia Super Corridor, Malaysia’s answer to Silicon Valley.

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