March 2, 2000
His Excellency Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad
Jabatan Perdana Menteri
Jalan Dato' Onn
Kuala Lumpur 50502
VIA FAX: +60-3-238-3784
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed by your government's ongoing harassment of Harakah government's ongoing harassment of Harakah, the newspaper of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
On March 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs renewed Harakah's publishing license, with the proviso that the paper could only publish twice a month. Under the terms of its previous license, which expired on February 28, Harakah had been publishing twice a week. Malaysia's onerous Press and Publications Act gives the government the authority to license and restrict publications.
The move to limit Harakah's circulation appears to be the latest example of your administration's efforts to curb the opposition press in Malaysia. In December 1999, the home ministry sent letters to five pro-opposition publications, including Harakah, threatening to shut them down if they did not abide by certain restrictions. Harakah's management was warned that under the terms of its publishing license, the newspaper could only be distributed to PAS members. This meant that Harakah could not be displayed and sold at public newsstands.
On January 13, 2000, Harakah's editor, Zulkifli Sulong, and the paper's printer, Chia Lim Thye, were indicted on sedition charges stemming from the paper's publication of a statement that criticized the government's handling of the ongoing sodomy trial of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Zulkifli and Chia have both pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face up to three years in jail under the provisions of the Sedition Act of 1948. Their joint trial is scheduled to begin on May 22 in Kuala Lumpur.
CPJ's Malaysian sources believe that the crackdown on Harakah is a response to the paper's growing popularity. Harakah's circulation climbed to a peak of about 377,000 in the run-up to last November's elections, in which PAS made significant gains. At its height, Harakah's sales rivaled, if not surpassed, those of its competitors in the mainstream press.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ is dismayed by your administration's efforts to restrict the circulation of Harakah. CPJ calls on you to work for the repeal of the Press and Publications Act, in order to bring Malaysia's legal system closer to international standards for a free press.
Pending the repeal of this legislation, we urge that you instruct the home minister to restore Harakah's permission to publish twice weekly. Finally, we repeat our request that Your Excellency's government drop the charges against Zulkifli and Chia immediately, and end the campaign of intimidation and harassment that is currently underway against Harakah.
Ann K. Cooper