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Members of ruling political party assault photographer at opposition press conference

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A photographer from a local daily was allegedly assaulted by members of the dominant ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), while covering a press conference organised by an opposition Member of Parliament on 16 November 2007.

Koh Chun Seng, 27, a photographer with the Chinese-language "Guangming Daily", claimed he was attacked for taking pictures of two UMNO members who had argued with Cheras MP Tan Kok Wai, of the opposition Democratic Action Party, during a press conference at a multipurpose hall in Kuala Lumpur on UMNO's alleged abuse of funds.

Local reports said Tan had accused UMNO of misusing funds by building a service centre for their own purposes instead of a public hall, after which several UMNO members confronted him for "trespassing".

When Koh tried to take pictures of the confrontation, the UMNO members allegedly stopped him physically. One punched him on his ear and another punched him again when he tried to restore calm.

Koh has filed a police report of the attack and obtained treatment at a nearby hospital for an injury to his ear.

SEAPA shares the concerns of its local partner, CIJ, about the increasing physical attacks against local journalists. In November alone, there have been at least two other such cases. R. Raman (@ R. Kalaramu), a journalist from the Tamil daily "Malaysian Nanban", fell into a coma after he was beaten by unknown men on 2 November, allegedly over his reports. Raman is reportedly recovering but still in intensive care. His colleague, M. Nagarajan, was threatened with death over his work.

But apart from physical threats, CIJ said there are also anecdotes of journalists being verbally threatened for their coverage on "sensitive" topics, such as illegal logging.

"However, few journalists make these attacks public as they perceive them as part and parcel of their job hazards. There are few avenues available for journalists to seek recourse except by lodging police reports, and fewer still result in the cases resolved or action taken," CIJ said its 17 November alert ( ).

Condemning the use of violence against journalists by any party, be it state or non-state actors, CIJ urges all to respect the role of the media in reporting in the public interest.

"The media, as a watchdog of those in power, must be allowed to operate in a safe environment," the media rights organisation stresses.

SEAPA supports CIJ in its call for:

1. Immediate and thorough investigations by the police into all threats, attacks against and intimidation and harassment of journalists;
2. Greater protection for journalists of all media backgrounds so that they can carry out their tasks without the risk of harm;
3. Coordinated initiatives, especially by media organisations and the National Union of Journalists, to ensure protection of staff and members; and
4. Better awareness of and respect for the media's role in reporting in the public interest.

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