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Tamil daily's photojournalist in coma after beating; colleague receives death threat for critical reporting

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Two journalists from a local Tamil daily, "Malaysia Nanban", have recently been the victims of either physical violence or death threats, allegedly over their work, reports local media watchdog Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

Photojournalist R. Raman, 52, who is better known by his pen name "R. Kalaramu", is in a coma due to serious head injuries sustained during a beating by unidentified men at 3:50 p.m. (local time) on 2 November 2007.

According to local reports, police found a hammer and a wooden pole at the crime scene outside his office in Johor Baru, the capital of the southern state of Johor.

On 13 November, his colleague in the northern state of Kedah, M. Nagarajan, filed a complaint with the police after receiving death threats from an anonymous caller.

Nagarajan, 39, said he received two phone calls warning him not to report on the dismal conditions of a Tamil school. "The caller hurled vulgarities at me and threatened that if I continued to pursue the story, I would face the same fate as my colleague who was attacked a week ago," he told CIJ.

Both journalists have been reporting on the education problems in the Indian community, especially on possible closure of Tamil schools due to the dismal state some are in. Raman also wrote on politics in the community.

SEAPA shares the concerns of its local partner CIJ, which is calling for a thorough and impartial investigation into whether the attack and threats were intended to prevent the journalists from discharging their duties.

"We are concerned with the growing threats on journalists from the Tamil language dailies, particularly those that are critical of the leadership in the community," said CIJ in a 14 November media release ( ).

There appears to be a growing trend in attacks against certain Indian media outlets in Malaysia.

On 3 April, while attempting to take photographs of a legislative assembly by-election in the Melaka capital of Machap, journalists from "Malaysia Nanban" and "Makkal Osai" were verbally abused and roughed up by members of Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a member of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (see IFEX alert of 5 April 2007).

In recent months, the two newspapers have come under pressure in the form of threats, boycotts and harassment from the MIC for questioning the party's leadership in tackling education, political tussles and other problems affecting the Indians, who form the third biggest ethnic group at 8 percent out of 27 million people in the country.

The month-long suspension of "Makkal Osai" in August over the publication of a picture of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette and what appeared to be a can of beer, is believed to be in response to the MIC's unhappiness with the newspaper's critical stance against the dominant Indian political party (see alerts of 4 September 2007 and 30 May 2006).

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