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Chinese-language newspaper's printing license may be revoked for identifying detainee's nationality

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Malaysia's independent media advocacy group, the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), has expressed concerns that authorities may revoke the printing license of a local Chinese-language newspaper, "China Press", over its recent headline which referred to the nationality of an abused detainee in a controversial video clip.

CIJ cited a recent report in a local news portal, "Merdeka Review", that the Ministry of Internal Security (MIS) has issued a show-cause letter to "China Press". The report did not give details of the letter's contents but suggested the permit of the newspaper's evening edition may be revoked due to the headline carried by the paper's 23 November 2005 evening edition. The headline revealed the nationality of the detainee who was shown being abused in police custody.

CIJ reported on 27 December that "China Press" editor-in-chief Chong Choong Nam confirmed that the letter had been issued to the newspaper but declined to comment further. The Ministry of Internal Security (MIS) could not be reached for comment.

"Merdeka Review" also reported that there was speculation that the permit would not be revoked if some action to placate the authorities, such as a change in senior editorial staff, was taken.

Media watchers in Malaysia said the mainstream media had also reported on this high-profile abuse case involving the police and had referred, albeit indirectly, to the nationality of the abused victim. They were suspicious that the MIS letter might be used as an excuse to target this minority-language newspaper because it is known for its strong and relatively independent editorial views.

Under Malaysia's Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, the Internal Security Minister holds the power to issue, revoke or change the terms of printing licenses at will. No judicial review is allowed. At present, the Internal Security Minister is also the Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

There is no avenue for recourse in the event of a license being revoked, according to CIJ. For that reason, CIJ has called on the Prime Minister to repeal the licensing provisions contained in the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

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