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CIJ calls for charges against "Malaysiakini" bosses to be dropped

The Malaysiakini.com offices in Kuala Lumpur, 3 May 2013
The Malaysiakini.com offices in Kuala Lumpur, 3 May 2013

REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

This statement was originally published on CIJ's Facebook page on 16 May 2017.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is alarmed by the prosecution of Malaysiakini Chief Executive Officer Premesh Chandran on 15 May 2017 under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) over the airing of a purportedly 'offensive' video of a press conference held by Khairuddin Abud Hassan on 27 July 2016, titled "Khairuddin: Apandi Ali is not fit to be AG".

Premesh was charged under Section 233(1)(a) and Section 244(1), similar to the ones faced by his colleague and editor-in-chief Steven Gan last year. The video was published online in the KiniTV section of the website in English and Bahasa Malaysia.

In the video, Khairuddin, a former establishment politician, had urged Attorney-General Apandi Ali to resign immediately for his decision not to pursue the 1MDB case that has drawn international investigations. Khairuddin also demanded that the AG contact his American counterpart to reveal details of their investigation, which he said implied that the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, was a key suspect.

Media coverage and public criticism of the 1MDB have been censored, blocked or subject to criminal charges. This trend contradicts the Prime Minister's public position when he took office in 2009 on the need for an "empowered" media that delivers content to Malaysians without "fear of consequence" as it is a necessary part of democratic building.

Section 233(1) criminalises the use of network facilities, services or applications service knowingly to transmit content that is "obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive" with intention "to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person". The terms and scope of the law are not clearly defined and do not meet the international standards on legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression. The law also places the burden of proof on the accused to show they have taken reasonable precautions to prevent the so-called offence.

The law has been used to block and investigate The Malaysian Insider for a story, also related to the 1MDB scandal. In 2015, a business radio station, BFM89.9, was investigated for a video debating the tabling of the hudud law in the state of Kelantan.

CIJ calls for these charges to be dropped and for the government to cease all harassment and intimidation of the media and journalists. Media practitioners including journalists and directors of media companies should not be penalized for reporting content of interest to the public. The two provisions under Sections 233 and 244 need to be amended so that the laws are not abused to restrict people's access to information and the media's freedom to report issues of public interest.

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