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"Harakah" and "Suara Keadilan" opposition newspapers suspended for three months

(CIJ/IFEX) - The following is a statement by the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), an interim member of IFEX:

CIJ and WAMI condemn suspension of opposition newspapers

The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia, (CIJ) and the Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) strongly condemn the Government's latest assault on constitutionally-enshrined freedom of expression and freedom of assembly when the country faces a change in leadership and three crucial by-elections. The Home Security has just suspended two opposition newspapers for three months, effective 23 March 2009 with no reason given in the suspension letters. Moreover, on the night of 23 March, police fired tear gas at civilians, including children, to crack down on a by-election rally.

While the Ministry has the power to suspend publications without cause under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (1984), the suspensions are a violation of normal procedure. Publications are usually given a "show cause" letter prior to action being taken. This shows unseemly and unusual haste in suspending the publications, indicating that it is likely to be linked to the Government's unease over a controversial handover of power and its apprehension over the three looming by-elections. Each publication, "Harakah" and "Suara Keadilan", claims a circulation of around 120,000 and in February, "Harakah" received a show cause letter for selling the newspapers in public spaces. We were unable to contact to the Ministry for further clarification on the suspension.

CIJ and WAMI also condemn the use of force against around 1,000 people gathered for a political speech in one of the by-election constituencies, Bukit Selambau in the northern state of Kedah, between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. on 23 March 2009. Riot police fired tear gas at the gathering during the welcome remarks by the leader of the Opposition, Anwar Ibrahim. Local news reports say police arrested at least 19 people, and many others were injured. Eyewitnesses claim that the police fired the tear gas at a crowd including children without any warning.

The three by-elections are scheduled for 7 April 2009 following the deaths of elected representatives in two constituencies and the resignation of another.

CIJ and WAMI call for the suspensions on the newspapers to be lifted. In the face of this blatantly political use of the PPPA, we once again call for its repeal, for a Parliamentary Select Committee on Media Freedom to be established, and for respect for Article 10 of the Constitution, which upholds freedom of expression. We also call for an open investigation into police behaviour in Kedah to ensure that they acted to uphold the right to freedom of assembly.

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