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Confiscation of journalist's notepad by police a serious "breach of media freedom"

(CIJ/IFEX) - 4 August 2011 - The Centre for Independent Journalism views the police order to "Malaysiakini" journalist Joseph Sipalan to surrender his notebook to them on 3 August 2011 as a serious breach of media freedom.

Sipalan was among those who reported on a press conference held by federal opposition leader Mohamad Sabu, who claimed that a police vehicle rammed into his motorcycle while he was on his way to the 9 July Bersih 2.0 rally for free and fair elections. The injury Sabu sustained from the resulting fall required a 2.5-inch nail to be drilled into his right knee. Following the report, police are investigating Sabu for "false claims".

While Section 51(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code allows for any court or police officer to obtain documents that are considered necessary for the purpose of its investigation, we fail to see how the journalist's notepad itself is relevant to the police investigation since he was already questioned on 2 August as a "witness" for having attended the press conference.

Notepads or any other recording devices used by journalists in the course of their work not only contain information about the story in question, but also other stories they have published or are working on. These recording devices may also contain details of sources, some of whom may have spoken on condition of confidentiality.

Protection of sources is sacrosanct to journalists as it has a direct bearing on their ability to work. As such, journalists' recording devices should never be privy to anyone else but for the most compelling of reasons related to an immediate and demonstrable direct threat to public safety.

This latest police action may lead to a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to do their work. If the police do not refrain from such actions in future, journalists may think twice about covering certain sources or issues that they think may lead to them being called in as potential police witnesses and having their tools of the trade surrendered to the police.

Journalists should be able to report according to their professional dictates without having to worry about the possibility of their laptops, cameras, notepads and other such recording devices being subject to police seizure.

In addition, this investigation shows continued harassment by the authorities of all those involved in the Bersih 2.0 rally on 9 July which called for clean and fair elections. This is yet another act that infringes upon citizens' freedom of expression and even goes further by threatening freedom of the press.

We therefore call upon the authorities to immediately cease all prosecutions of those involved with the Bersih 2.0 rally which was a legitimate expression by the people of their views, and an exercise of their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

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