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CIJ calls for an end to book banning

(CIJ/IFEX) - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that the government is considering banning more books and is intimidating book retailers in a move to prevent public debate. Its latest move has been to confiscate two books, "Where is Justice?" and "1 Funny Malaysia", published by the online news site http://Malaysiakini.com .

On 29 January 2010, the news portal reported that sixty-four copies of the books have been confiscated from two of a retailer's outlets in the states of Melaka and Penang. A Malaysiakini spokesperson said the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs told the publisher that they are studying the books for content that is prejudicial to public order and morality. He also said that, following the confiscation, the retailer will not be selling the books until the ministry has reached a decision.

The confiscation of the books in order to study whether the books are to be confiscated is a questionable procedure - book banning is a severe violation of freedom of expression, and the confiscation of books merely because of a concern that they may be offensive takes this violation to extremes.

The government's excuse that the books might be "prejudicial to public order and morality" is highly questionable. The books discuss a current crisis of governance. "Where is Justice?" questions the police and the anti-corruption commission on cases of deaths while in custody, while "1 Funny Malaysia" is a collection of political cartoons by Zunar, a Malaysiakini contributor.

This is not the first time Zunar's work has been prevented from circulating. In August 2009 his cartoon magazines on current affairs were also confiscated by the Ministry of Home Affairs on the excuse that they lacked a publication permit.

The Ministry of Home Affairs was also reported to have extended a gag order on the circulation of another book, "Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times", for another 60 days for similar study. Copies of the book, which was authored by Asian Wall Street Journal former editor Barry Wain and contends that the fourth prime minister was responsible for losses of RM100 billion (approx. US$29 billion) during his term in office, were confiscated on 24 December 2009 from the Port Klang checkpoint. The incidents show that public discussion and criticism of the federal government are consistently restricted. The government is violating the people's right to free speech and opinion instead of improving its services to counter the critics.

CIJ calls for the Ministry of Home Affairs to immediately return the confiscated books and allow them to be distributed at all outlets.

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