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Journalist detained while covering protest, charged with "obstructing police"

(SEAPA/IFEX) - On 26 January 2008, Malaysian police arrested a journalist while he was covering a protest in Kuala Lumpur, later charging him with "obstructing police duty".

The journalist, Syed Jaymal Zahiid of http://www.Malaysiakini.com , had been pressing the police for information about the arrests of protesters who had gathered at the iconic Twin Towers to voice unhappiness over the rising prices of essential goods.

"He had identified himself as a journalist and was only asking the police officer about the arrests that were taking place, but the police proceeded to arrest him [anyway]. We tried to talk to the police as well, but to no avail," Malaysiakini.com editor K. Kabilan told SEAPA's local partner, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

More than 60 people out of the 200-odd demonstrators were arrested that day, outnumbered by the hundreds of police personnel guarding the area. Syed Jaymal has been released on a bail of RM1,000 (approx. US$308), together with 34 others who have been charged with illegal assembly.

SEAPA joins CIJ in condemning the police for arresting the journalist when he was merely doing his job.

"We call upon all institutions of power to respect journalists, as they have an important role to play in disseminating truthful information to the public," said CIJ in a 28 January release, urging the authorities to drop the charge against Syed Jaymal as well as to apologise to him and Malaysiakini.com.

SEAPA shares CIJ's concern that the authorities may be targeting the online daily, which is one of the few alternative and independent sources of information that has given due coverage to the mass gatherings organised by civil society groups over the past months. Police previously detained another Malaysiakini.com journalist during a 21 January protest in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, against increased highway toll charges.

The mainstream media, forced into compliance by a restrictive licensing regime and control through ownership by the ruling parties, have been repeatedly told to play down any opposition issues ahead of elections expected to be held in March. Malaysiakini.com has also been exposing such political interference in the mainstream media.

"Journalists in Malaysia are continuously exposed to threats and intimidation by people in power as well as individuals, and have very little protection legally. This only signals the lack of respect for the work that journalists do," said CIJ.

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