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Arrest of Malaysian editors, publisher under Sedition Act "an assault on media freedom"

Support pours in from the public in the wake of the TMI arrests, 1 April 2015
Support pours in from the public in the wake of the TMI arrests, 1 April 2015

The Malaysian Insider/Facebook

This statement was originally published on cijmalaysia.org on 31 March 2015.

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) call for the immediate release of The Malaysian Insider (TMI) chief executive Jahabar Sadiq and The Edge publisher Ho Kay Tat, in addition to the three other Malaysian Insider editors that were detained on 30 Mar 2015.

CIJ and SEAPA view these arrests under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act as an assault on media freedom and an act of intimidation in using police powers of arrests and detention against the four editors and Ho. As stated in CIJ's media statement dated 30 March 2015, if the police intended to investigate TMI for an article on the Conference of Rulers that has been disputed, police could have interviewed the people involved without a need to detain them, keep them overnight and apply for a remand order. If the article was found to be erroneous, it could have been retracted or corrected. If it had been found to be true, then the investigation would have no basis. The reaction of the police has been wholly disproportionate to the stated reason for the arrest of TMI's editors and Ho.

In the wake of multiple arrests and detentions of those seen to be critical of the government, it is even more important for the media to continue to play its part as the fourth estate to hold the pillars of government accountable and to keep the public informed. In this regard,
The Edge and The Malaysian Insider, for instance, have been publishing a series of articles on state investment vehicle 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and questioning whether it is able to service its debts, which reportedly amounts to RM42 billion [approx US$11 billion]. Given the possible effect on the Malaysian economy and Malaysians' well-being in general, it is important that media outfits continue to be free to investigate and report on such stories to keep the public informed and not fear disproportionate action from the police and government authorities in the carrying out of their duties.

CIJ and SEAPA thus call on the government to respect freedom of expression and for the police to release The Malaysian Insider editors and Ho, who have been unnecessarily detained.


Background

On 30 March 2015, CIJ called for the immediate release of The Malaysian Insider (TMI) managing editor Lionel Morais, features editor Zulkifli Sulong and Bahasa news editor Amin Shah Iskandar, who have been arrested under the Sedition Act and section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act. The three editors were arrested when the police and MCMC officers raided TMI's offices reportedly in relation to a news article TMI had published on the Conference of Rulers' reaction to Kelantan's state enactment on hudud.

Reports had emerged that the Conference of Rulers had disputed the article and a police report had been lodged by the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal to that effect.

CIJ questions the high-handedness of the raid and arrests. Should the article have been found to be incorrect, it could have been rebutted and TMI requested to retract it or publish a correction.

Even if the police wanted to initiate investigations, they could have requested for the requisite information from TMI instead of raiding their office and arresting their editors. It is not a secret that TMI published the article in question, nor is TMI denying authorship of the article. There is also no need to detain the three editors overnight, nor is there a need to apply for their remand.

The 30 March raid and arrests is part of a worrying trend of a decline in standards of freedom of expression in Malaysia. It is embarrassing and appalling that the law is being utilised in this manner and this constitutes assault on the rule of law. CIJ calls for the immediate release of the TMI's editors and a cessation of the authorities' arbitrary crackdown on freedom of expression.

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