An international human rights group today urged Putrajaya to immediately release The Malaysian Insider (TMI) journalists arrested last night and to deal with the portal’s disputed article in a mature manner.
Published: 31 March 2015 12:48 PM
Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said the arrest showed the government was bent on dragging Malaysia down to the level of Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in terms of human rights abuse.
“Malaysia’s use of the Sedition Act to criminalise reporters gravely threatens freedom of the press, and, when considered in conjunction with the police’s knee-jerk raid and arrest policy towards those making critical comments, shows that this government is apparently intent on dragging the country down to the level of Vietnam, Laos and Burma in the bottom tier of rights abusers in the region.
“The government should release these news editors immediately, drop any charges against them, and if they believe the article in question is wrong, publicly refute the article in a mature way consistent with basic democratic principles and respect for human rights,” said Robertson.
This morning, police also arrested group CEO of the The Edge Media Group Ho Kay Tat and TMI chief executive Jahabar Sadiq, hours after last night’s arrest of managing director Lionel Morais, Bahasa editor Amin Iskandar and features and analysis editor Zulkifli Sulong.
The five were arrested over a report by TMI on March 25 which said the Conference of Rulers had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law that would pave the way for hudud to be enforced in Kelantan.
The Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) of Malaysia also condemned the arrests and said it would have been enough for police to call witnesses and suspects to record their statements.
“There is no good reason to arrest and detain them overnight.
“No TMI personnel has tried to flee from investigations even from last week when police reports were first filed against the news portal.
“It is of great concern that the police are applying ‘preventive measures’ to reporters, as if they were terrorists,” the FFC said.
Amnesty international Malaysia also said the arrests of the journalists, as well as of activists, lawyers and opposition members in recent times, showed “a government bent on subjugating its people”.
“The Malaysian government is embarrassing itself on the world stage and must take steps to halt this crackdown immediately,” said its Malaysian executive director Shamini Darshni.
In a separate statement, The Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet), a group that promotes moderation and good governance, said that the arrest of the editors were an overreaction on the part of the police.
“Of late, the police have been uncharacteristically aggressive, especially against those critical of the government. While we want to make it clear that we do not condone nor tolerate law-breakers, the police too should be more judicious when enforcing the law, “ said Cenbet co-president Gan Ping Sieu.
He urged Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar to exercise restraint and allow common sense to prevail when dealing with politically-sensitive issues and personalities.
He said this would help redeem the police’s tattered image and remove the force’s “political tool” label.
“All Khalid needs to do is to order his men to uphold the rule of law and that includes according politicians, civil society leaders and ordinary Malaysians with basic dignity and respect,” said Gan.
“Khalid’s men must keep up with the times and meet international policing benchmark and know the difference between ‘prosecute’ and ‘persecute’. Excessive law enforcement is an abuse of due process.”
The Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal lodged a police report on March 26 denying that the Conference of Rulers had discussed hudud, adding that it had never issued any statement on the Islamic criminal law in Kelantan.
Kedah Umno Youth also filed a police report against the portal.
Barisan Nasional MPs have complained about TMI in Parliament, while Utusan Malaysia carried several reports calling for action against the portal.
The Edge and The Malaysian Insider have also been reporting on problems with the government-owned strategic investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). – March 31, 2015.