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Newspaper faces harassment, possible legal action over editorial on caning

(CIJ/IFEX) - 25 February 2010 - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned that "The Star" newspaper is being issued a show-cause letter by the Ministry of Home Affairs, following police reports lodged against the daily over the publication of a column questioning the caning of three Muslim women. CIJ calls on the Home Ministry to retract the show-cause letter and for the police reports to be withdrawn; the media's role to provide opinion on current issues must be respected.

On 24 February 2010, online news site "The Malaysian Insider" reported on the issuing of the show-cause letter to "The Star" by the Home Ministry, a day after the media reported that the National Indigenous Organisation (Perkasa), Perkasa Selangor, Malaysian Islamic Consumer Association (PPIM) and the Malaysian Muslim People's Coalition (IRIMM), as well as eight individuals, lodged police reports at separate locations against the daily.

The NGOs viewed a commentary piece, published in "The Star"'s 19 February edition and written by managing editor P. Gunasegaram, as an insult to Islam, coming from a non-Muslim. Besides an apology, the Muslim NGOs in particular demanded that the writer be sacked. In his article, "Persuasion, not compulsion", P. Gunasegaram asked whether the sentence of both caning and detention are proportionate to the offence - illicit sex - and argued against punitive sentence for private behaviour. "The Star" issued a public apology on 24 February in response to demands made by some readers.

According to CIJ, the lodging of police reports, and the point made that the writer is not fit to comment because he is a not a Muslim, does not promote an understanding of the issues. A common response is to invoke the use of repressive laws, a threat used not only by the authorities but increasingly, by non-governmental organisations. This worrying trend has the effect of silencing dissenting views and putting a stop to intellectual engagement. Discussion of laws and court judgments - be it under civil or syari'ah - should not be curtailed. It is not a sign of disrespect; in fact, it strengthens Malaysia's legal system. The flow of information, ideas, analyses and opinions should be encouraged; it helps us find out what's what and shapes our understanding of issues and concerns that are faced by a multi-ethnic society like Malaysia's.

The CIJ urges the Home Ministry to retract its letter and for the groups and individuals to withdraw their police reports.

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