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Malaysia 16 November 2006

Pressure on media as police picked up in model’s murder

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the actions of Malaysia’s police in trying to stifle coverage of a murder case in which police officers are among the suspects and expressed concern about protection of their sources.

Police have been summoning and putting pressure on journalists while the head of police has told the press that it was speculating dangerously.

Model Altantuya Shaariibuu, 28, was murdered on 19 October. Her body was mutilated by being blown up with explosives. The case has received huge press coverage, some of it sensationalist, particularly since it was revealed that the woman had a relationship with a well known political analyst, Abdul Razak Baginda, and that she had come to Malaysia seeking financial help for her sick son.

"In the midst of the media storm around the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, Reporters Without Borders condemns the attitude of the police, who seeing themselves under attack, are trying to hush up the case and also to force some journalists to reveal their sources,” the organisation said.

“While the investigators already have enough solid evidence to accuse suspects, it is regrettable that reporters should be summoned and urged to practice self-censorship,” said the worldwide press freedom organisation.

Two police officers have been charged and the political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda is being held in custody. The prime minister has called for a thorough investigation and the Inspector-General of police, Tan Sri Musa Hassan accused journalists on 13 November of conducting a “trial by media”. “I know people are curious about this case, but do not speculate. I want to know where you get the information you are publishing,” he said. Police have summoned several journalists.

Elsewhere, the Weekend Mail and its editor, Mohammed Zulkifli Abdul Jalil, were suspended on 6 November, after publication, the previous evening of a report into sexuality. The interior security minister launched an investigation into the “incident”. The government said it had acted under pressure from the public who were shocked by the report. The New Straits Times Press group published a full-page apology in the daily Malay Mail. The authorities could take other sanctions under Article 6 (2) of the 1984 press law.

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