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IPI concerned by assaults on free expression as nation undergoes new leadership

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 2 April 2009 IPI press release:

Malaysia Arrests Bloggers, Bans Newspapers in Fresh Assaults on Expression

VIENNA, 2 April 2009 - The International Press Institute today expressed concern about recent arrests of bloggers, restrictions on news organisations and other breaches of free expression in Malaysia.

In the past month, the authorities arrested six bloggers, denied several news organisations access to the dominant political party's general assembly, and banned two opposition newspapers, according to IPI sources in Malaysia. These actions came as the ruling National Front, which is dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), faced rising public concern over the economy and as Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi prepared to hand over power to his deputy, Najib Razak.

"The government and the main power brokers in the National Front should recognize that criticism and dissent are part of a working democracy and allow journalists and bloggers to exercise their right to free speech," said IPI Director David Dadge. "The constitution provides for freedom of the press and freedom of speech, but government action has stifled these rights and forced journalists and commentators to censor themselves for fear of retribution or intimidation."

Malaysia, a nation of 25 million, keeps a tight rein on the media through the use of national security laws and media licensing regulations. The government has also been intolerant of opposition bloggers and has ordered Internet service providers to block critical blogs. Reporters covering political rallies or other events often face harassment from security forces.

In the latest incidents, according to Malaysian press freedom and human rights advocates, six bloggers were arrested for criticising the Sultan of Perak, one of the nation's nine regional monarchs, for allowing UMNO to form a new Perak state government without elections. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, where insulting royals is a criminal offence.

In addition, the opposition newspapers Harakah and Suara Keadilan were suspended from publishing for three months beginning in March. Under Malaysia's Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Home Affairs minister has the power to arbitrarily revoke or suspend publishing licenses if newspapers are deemed to be a threat to national security and public order.

Six Internet news sites were denied passes to cover the UMNO general conference in March. "All these websites have been irresponsible in their reporting," UMNO's secretary-general, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, said at a news conference. "If you report responsibly about UMNO's leaders, then we will allow you to come in. But the way they report is sickening."

The news sites include Malaysiakini.com (Malaysia Now), which has had numerous run-ins with UMNO in the 10 years since the Internet site was founded. Malaysiakini.com won the IPI Free Media Pioneer Award in 2001 for its independence and its combination of in-depth reporting, analysis and commentary.

For further information on the suspensions of "Harakah" and "Suara Keadilan" newspapers, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101839

For further information on the bloggers' arrests, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/101651

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