MALAYSIA


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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press



JANUARY 20, 2003

Malaysiakini
HARASSED

Police from a special computer-crimes department entered the offices of the online paper Malaysiakini in Kuala Lumpur, interrogated several journalists, and seized the company's computers, according to staff. Officers occupied the offices from noon until about 5:30 p.m. The Web site (www.malaysiakini.com) was operating again by about 10 p.m. that night.

Police Superintendent Mohamad Kamarrudin told staff that the computers would be held and searched for evidence in a possible sedition case to be brought against Malaysiakini, according to sources at the company. Five days earlier, the youth wing of the ruling United Malays National Party (UMNO), Pemuda-UMNO, filed a complaint with police about an anonymous letter that Malaysiakini had published on January 9. The letter criticized Malaysia's system of racial preferences, which favors ethnic Malays, and also compared Pemuda-UMNO to the United States' Ku Klux Klan. Pemuda-UMNO called the letter seditious and said it could incite racial hatred.

During the police raid, officials demanded that Malaysiakini reveal who wrote the letter. When editor Steven Gan refused, officers began seizing the computers. On January 21, at around 11 a.m., Gan complied with an official order to appear in person at local police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Following a three-hour interrogation, Gan told reporters, "From the line of questioning, I have a strong belief that they will likely take action against me." Sedition is punishable by up to three years' imprisonment; possession of seditious material is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.

By early March, police had returned all but four of the computers, and Malaysiakini was operating as normal. However, the publication reported that the average number of readers had dropped because people feared that police were monitoring the site after the raid.