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Photojournalists assaulted by political parties' security personnel

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Media watchdogs in Malaysia are denouncing the use of force against photojournalists by political parties' security personnel during news events.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a SEAPA partner, and the Writers' Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) said in a statement: "The latest assault against a photojournalist by security personnel of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People's Justice Party) reflects a worrying trend of disregard for the journalism profession and constitutes a job hazard to which media professionals are routinely exposed."

According to CIJ and WAMI, security personnel of PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim assaulted the photographer Loh Hoay Hoon on 4 August 2008 while he was covering Ibrahim's public speech. It was reported that the bodyguards' attempts to prevent Loh and other photographers from taking pictures of Ibrahim resulted in a scuffle in which Loh was beaten.

Prior to this, four photographers covering the 15 July televised debate between Ibrahim and Information Minister Shabery Cheek were also allegedly assaulted by security personnel in the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature), the venue for the debate.

Zulkifli Ersal and Khairul Hasnor Mohd Khalili from "The Daily Sun", Othman Abu Bakar from "The Edge Financial Daily", and Hanafiah Hamzah, a cameraman from Channel News Asia, said the security personnel also prevented them from taking pictures of the speakers and even tried to block their exit from the media room.

CIJ and WAMI said in their statement that photographers, as media professionals, should be treated with respect by all parties. CIJ added that its monitoring revealed that photojournalists are frequently harassed by political parties' security personnel.

"This indicates a lack of respect for journalism and a lack of understanding of the role photographers play. CIJ and WAMI would like to remind all that the public's right to information is being undermined when photographers are routinely restricted from reporting visually to the public," the joint statement said.

The two groups added, "We urge the police to investigate the assault on the photographer, who has lodged a complaint about this incident. We call on all political parties to adopt a respectful approach in dealing with the media and to prevent such incidents from recurring. They can start by educating their members and staff on the media's role as a disseminator of information of public interest."

The CIJ ( http://cijmalaysia.org/ ) is a SEAPA partner based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free, where all people enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.

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