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Malaysia 28 February 2002

RSF calls on the Secretary General of ASEAN to intervene in favour of free circulation of information

In a letter sent to the Secretary General of ASEAN, Rodolfo Certeza Severino Jr, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF) expressed its concern about the increase in censorship and intimidation against foreign publications in ASEAN member countries. "The integration and economic development in Southeast Asia that your organisation defends also depends on the free circulation of information," said the general secretary of RSF, Robert Ménard. RSF also asked Mr. Severino to intervene with the prime ministers of Thailand and Malaysia to help stop the restrictive measures taken against the magazines Far Eastern Economic Review, The Economist, Newsweek and Time as soon as possible.

According to information obtained by RSF, Chor Chee Heung, Malaysia’s deputy minister of the interior, stated that the government had decided to block or delay the distribution of the latest issues of the international magazines Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, The Economist and Time. The minister said that this measure followed the publication, in these magazines, of "erroneous news about the situation in the country", especially concerning the presence of members of al Qaeda in Malaysia. The Economist was probably sanctioned for publishing an article on the situation of immigrant workers in Malaysia.

At the same time in Thailand, the government decided to expel Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker, two journalists with the Far Eastern Economic Review based in Bangkok. After the government added their names to a list of "undesirable" foreigners, immigration officials confiscated their passports and revoked their visas. They were threatened with expulsion, but their lawyer has appealed. Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker, respectively American and English, are not allowed to work until a final decision is handed down in 30 days. After asking them to apologize for "insulting" the king, the government of Thaksin Shinawatra threatened to prosecute the two journalists for endangering "national security". The prime minister asked the American ambassador to not interfere in this "internal affair".

After this decision was announced, many organisations and personalities asked the Bangkok government to reverse the decision. On 28 February, Thai senators considered that the article, published on 10 January, was not critical to the king, and that there was no reason to expel the two journalists.

Since early 2002, the government has regularly harassed the Far Eastern Economic Review, blaming it for publishing articles about the difficult relations between the prime minister and the king of Thailand.

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