Reporters Without Borders condemns the three-month bans that were imposed yesterday on two opposition party newspapers - Suara Keadilan of the Keadilan party and Harakah of the Islamic party PAS - just days ahead of Najib Razak’s expected installation as Malaysia’s new prime minister on 28 March. The two newspapers were notified of the bans in fax messages that gave no reason.
“There is constant pressure on the opposition print media,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The restrictions on Keadilan’s press mouthpieces orchestrated by home minister Syed Hamid Albar constitute electoral sabotage as well as flagrant press freedom violations. This is a manoeuvre that is clearly aimed at blunting press criticism of the future prime minister’s personality and his abuse of authority.”
The ruling coalition led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) seems to think that no holds are barred in its fight to undermine the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan. The opposition’s members are constantly subjected to violations of their privacy, physical threats and other forms of harassment, including the suspension of one of its parliamentarians.
The home minister told the state-run news agency Bernama that the two newspapers were suspended because they “violated the conditions of their permits.” He said they had published articles questioning the monarchy and sensationalised reports aimed at causing confusion and disharmony. “This action does not mean the government is curbing press freedom,” he said, insisting that its aim was “to preserve peace and harmony in our multi-racial society.”
Keadilan parliamentarian and spokesman Tian Chua told Reporters Without Borders: “The aim of the ban on our publications is to harm our party and to crush the means of alerting citizens to the nature of this government. We are in an extremely sensitive political context of government change and the coming elections [bi-elections on 7 April] are an enormous challenge. The war has begun and if Najib takes office, there is worse to come.”
The general secretary of PAS said the party would appeal against the ban. “This is a violation of press freedom and a violation of the right of every political party to be able to freely publish its own newspaper.”
With most of the Malaysian media tied to the government, the opposition has to use its own newspapers, websites and blogs to get its message across to the electorate.
Tens of thousands of copies of Suara Keadilan and Harakah were already seized by the authorities last month.