September 7, 2000
His Excellency Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Blok Utama, Tingkat
Pusat Pentadhiran Karajaan Persekutuan
VIA FAX: +603-8888-3530
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is dismayed by the recent suspension of two Malaysian publications, the weekly news magazine Eksklusif and the monthly youth magazine Wasilah.
In an interview yesterday with the online newspaper Malaysiakini, Home Ministry official Tengku Mahmood Tengku Ismail said Eksklusif's publication had been suspended "due to its imbalanced reporting and non-compliance with publication rules and regulations." The Kumpulan Karangkraf company, which publishes Eksklusif, was notified by written decision last month, according to a CPJ source, but did not publicize the matter for fear that its other 20 publications might suffer as a result.
Eksklusif has been effectively banned since April 15, when its annual publishing permit expired, despite the publisher's numerous appeals to the Home Ministry. Under the onerous Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, all publications are required to apply annually for a license to publish. The Home Ministry oversees publication permits in Malaysia, and there is no judicial review of ministerial decisions on media licensing.
Eksklusif is an important source of news that might not otherwise find an outlet in Malaysia's tightly controlled mainstream media; its content is mostly political and often quite critical of the government. According to Malaysiakini, Home Ministry officials warned Eksklusif to "improve its coverage" after the magazine published articles sympathetic to ousted deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently jailed on what appear to be politically motivated charges of sodomy and corruption.
Meanwhile, the Home Ministry has also refused to license the monthly youth magazine Wasilah, whose annual publishing permit expired August 31. Editors had applied for renewal three months ago, well in advance of the expiration date. Although no official decision has been announced, a Home Ministry source told Malaysiakini that the permit was in the process of being "suspended and revoked."
Wasilah's editor, Ahmad Lutfi Othman, who is a member of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), told reporters that he believes the decision was politically motivated. Lutfi is the former editor of Detik, an independent bimonthly magazine that was shut down in March.
CPJ sources said that although Wasilah was not particularly critical of the government, Lutfi's personal ties to the opposition likely prompted the Home Ministry to ban the publication.
Lutfi told Malaysiakini that he had in fact tried to tone down Wasilah's political content to avoid confrontation with the administration. "This decision is too much," he said. "We have sacrificed our own intellect in order to avoid any dispute with the [Home Ministry]."
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ condemns your government's frequent use of the Printing Presses and Publications Act to shut down publications perceived as being pro-opposition. The actions against Eksklusif and Wasilah are further evidence that the Act is being used as a political tool, in violation of your government's international obligations to guarantee freedom of speech and of the press.
CPJ urges Your Excellency to instruct the Home Ministry to allow Eksklusif and Wasilah to resume publishing immediately. We also call for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984.
We appreciate your attention to these urgent matters, and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper