Freedom of Expression in Malaysia in 2008: An Annual Review by CIJ
An annual review by
Foreword and Credit
1 Malaysian politics post 2008 elections and the impact on
freedom of expression
2 First past the race post
4 Freedom of assembly
7 Media Freedom
10 Box- An observation of columns on Pakatan Rakyat
12 Media ethics and hazards of the profession
15 Appendix I- Attacks and threats against journalist
16 Socio-political blogging and online media
18 Access to Information
18 Hopes and Recommendation
18 CIJ in 2008
20 Appendix II- Freedom of Expression in 2008
25 Appendix III- Positive developments and milestones
he debate for freedom of expression intensified in 2008 following the 12th general election, dubbed the
“political tsunami”. Thanks to the changing political landscape, freedom of expression made an impact on the
public consciousness as well as building inroads to the national agenda.
In the months after the election, on the pages of news papers were lengthy discussion on the need to free the
media. Stories of Malaysians holding demonstrations for various issues has noticeably increased. The internet got
more popular as Malaysians were drawn to the type of unregulated exercise of freedom of expression available
Responding to such upbeat mood, the ruling government still resisted to any major reform, for example shelving
the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Internal Security Act, nor relinquishing political interference in the
newsrooms. Still, 2008 was a year where such stubborness looks awkward in the face of a public that has grown
Malaysia: Freedom of Expression 2008 documents both the changes and the lack of thereof since the political
tsunami of the debate. The review highlights the scenario on freedom of assembly, media freedom, journalism
ethics and the state of the profession, and the online media. Appendices are included for the events discussed as
well as other relevant happenings.
In retrospect, the Centre for Independence Journalism is hopeful that 2008 was the start of a long-drawn out
process to media law reform and greater freedom of expression. The year is a testimony that Malaysians holds the
key to a more accountable government through their exercise of freedom of expression.
Research, Writer and Layout: CIJ would like to thank the Friedrich
Yip Wai Fong Naumann Foundation’s Alumni
Network (FAN) for allowing us the
Editor: generous use of pictures.
Chuah Siew Eng
Malaysian politics post 2008 elections and the impact on freedom of
A milestone year marked with small gains
amidst strong threats
he 8 March 2008 general election unexpectedly threw the ruling
coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), out of power in five important states
and landed it with a significantly reduced majority in Parliament.
Suddenly, the federal government faced the unprecedented threat of losing its
political hegemony held since independence - unless it made reforms toward
greater transparency, better checks and balances, and a more equitable wealth
distribution among a nation that was increasingly divided along ethnic fault lines.
Unfortunately, events since the elections showed that the government was still
reluctant to embark on legislative reforms toward a true democracy, including
in the area of freedom of expression and information.
The flip-flop in reviewing the Internal Security Act (ISA), a preemptive law much
criticised for its detention-without-trial provision and misuse over the years
especially against government dissenters, best illustrates the case. Hopes were
raised by the efforts of newly-minted de facto Minister of Law, Zaid Ibrahim, to
push for a review. However, before any change could be effected, Prime Minister
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi accepted the resignation of the frustrated Zaid, who
was later expelled over another matter from the United Malays National
Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in the BN. No one replaced Zaid’s
cabinet position. The federal government continues to resist pressure from the
public and its own BN partners against the ISA in its present form, as reflected
“ISA will remain, but the in the assurance by Najib Abdul Razak, the PM-in-waiting, that the ISA will still
be here when he takes power in March 2009.
Government has also
made a decision for me Nevertheless, the election results have had a positive effect on the public’s
and for the minister in attitude as regards freedom of expression, trickling down to the some major
charge...and the AG to re- presses which noticeably started publishing bolder editorials and opinion pieces
that sometimes challenged the official line. The public became more vocal about
view it...that we can make issues through the Internet, letters to the editor as well as through street
it less, as it were, painful, assemblies and NGO activity. In a May public poll conducted by the Centre for
or less harsh..” Independent Journalism (CIJ) with the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research,
80 percent of the respondents (from a sample of 1,203) linked media ownership
to the government and said they would like to see a more independent and
Former Minister Zaid Ibra-
critical media. This reflected an increasingly vocal demand from the public for
him, in an interview with openness in information and critical expression.
author/editor Kee Thuan
Chye for “March 8- The However, even as made inroads were being made in public demands for greater
Day Malaysia Woke Up”. freedom and equality among the ethnic groups, they have also ignited opposing
voices from the long-dominant ethnic group out to preserve the status quo in
Zaid resigned in Sept and their favour - in several cases, pitting the more progressive civil society groups
was expelled from UMNO against the conservative ones, or splitting members within the same political
in Dec. party in the opposition as well as putting different ethnic groups at loggerheads.
Protesters at the Bar Council’s forum, “Conversion to Islam”. The forum is perceived by the Muslims who protested as questioning the sanctity of the religion,
despite clarification and assurance from the organizer, who took care to invite Muslims as part of the panel, that it merely seek to discuss the legal complicity
arises in the family of non-Muslims when one converted to Islam without the family’s knowledge. That the protesters are from both ruling and opposition parties
and non-political groups raises a debate on the limit of civil discussion about topics such as race and religion in Malaysia.
eeply entrenched as of the Democratic Action Party
they are in Malaysian (DAP), received death threats and
past-the- society and politics,
ethnic-based identity and
was interrogated by the police
for allegedly questioning the
race post political Islam inevitably become
the overarching themes in the
jurisdiction of the (Malay) royalty
in the state of Perak. In July and
freedom of expression landscape. August, protests by Malay Muslims,
Discussions on these topics tend both from UMNO and its usual
to be politicised and deemed by foes PAS and PKR, disrupted two
the authorities as too “sensitive” forums by the Bar Council on the
for the multiethnic society to so-called historical agreement
handle; hence, there is heavy state on race relations (dubbed the
censorship of expressions on Malaysian “social contract”) and
these issues, hindering efforts to legal issues arising from conversion
dissect them. to Islam. In September, amidst
tensions arising from a comment
As soon as the elections ended, by an UMNO division leader,
UMNO-owned Malay language Ahmad Ismail, on the origins of
dailies decried the results as a Chinese Malaysians, blogger Raja
blow to the special position of the Petra Kamarudin, Member of
Malay majority and race relations. Parliament and Selangor state
In May 2008, Karpal Singh, a leader Exco Teresa Kok and reporter
Tan Hoon Cheng were arrested important to preserve racial may mark the closing of the
under the ISA over allegedly harmony. Talks on the proposal are tiny window of opportunity for
questionable offences relating to still on-going with little information reforms as his successor Najib is
race and religion. In October, when revealed to the public. widely perceived to be styled by
Kok filed a RM30mil suit against Mahathir.
UMNO-owned Malay daily “Utusan Thus, race and religious identities
Malaysia” after her release from remain powder-keg issues to The BN government’s response
the ISA, claiming that a defamatory certain segments of the Malaysian to the increased awareness of
article in the paper led to her society. Having long clamped democratic rights post-elections
wrongful arrest, an UMNO division down on free speech, especially was erratic at best. As described
accused the suit as challenging the on these issues, and fearing an in the paragraphs below, it granted
honour of Malays and started a escalation into no-holds barred small concessions in the exercise
fund to help the daily. debate and open disagreement, of civil rights when it could afford
the government reprised its Big to do so while not hesitating to
The government responded to the Brother role through the media invoke strong-arm tactics through
rising clamour of opposing voices, outlets it controls or owns, giving state and legal apparatuses as per
the loudest of which were drawn rise to fears that the nation the norm. This was most evident in
along ethnic lines, by announcing may regress to the era of iron- the area of Freedom of Assembly,
on 16 September a plan to enact fist rule that characterised the a right closely associated to
a Race Relations law, but without era of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Freedom of Expression in Malaysia
committing to relaxing existing Indeed, Abdullah’s stepping down vis-à-vis a highly controlled
restrictive laws which it deems from office come March 2009 mainstream media.
Freedom of Assembly –
he silent minority grew Police issued permits to the pro- at a private venue, the Sultan
bolder in gathering to state ISA gathering on 23 November Sulaiman club in Kuala Lumpur.
their position on various 2008 by the Malay rights group Organised to celebrate the end
causes after the general elections Pewaris, and to the Yayasan Aminul of a five-year ban on PKR adviser
in the expectation that the Ummah Malaysia on 29 December. Anwar from active politics, the 14
authorities will finally heed their Permit was also given for the April gathering attracted 10,000
voices following the emergence of march on 13 August by students people despite police warning. Two
a stronger competition in the form of the Universiti Teknologi Mara months later, on 14 June, police
of the Pakatan Rakyat, led by former (UiTM) opposing Selangor Menteri arrested the opposition Members
deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim’s Besar Khalid Ibrahim’s proposal of Parliament (MP) who demanded
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). to take in non-Malay students into in a rally to the Palace the release
the Malay-exclusive domain. When of HINDRAF leaders held under
Among the issues raised were a group of Malay Muslims from the ISA since 2007. The MPs were
rising prices of goods, labour rights, both opposition and ruling parties released on bail the same day.
indigenous rights, intra-UMNO gathered without a permit at the On 16 June, police used water
dissatisfaction and ethnic-based Bar Council on 9 August to protest cannon against 700 protestors who
demands. The last have come the forum titled ‘Conversion gathered in the city in support
notably from the Hindu Rights to Islam’, police allowed them of Anwar after he faced a new
Action Force (HINDRAF) and to disrupt the proceedings and sodomy charge. In July, the police
the countervailing Malay rights ‘advised’ the organiser to stop the and army attempted to join forces
groups. The latter have also risen discussion. ahead of an opposition-organised
in protest of Pakatan’s efforts to rally against the fuel price hikes.
move away from ethnic-based On 16 April, police questioned Civil society protested strongly
policies. the senior leadership of PKR against the move and submitted a
over the ‘Black 14’ gathering joint letter to the government.
In this environment, the double Organized by Hindraf, about two thousand marched at the capital city to call for the release of ISA detainees on
standards practised by state September.
security agencies became more
apparent. Riot police intimidation,
water cannons and even arrests
for “illegal assembly” would
often greet organisers from the
opposition parties and Indian rights
movement HINDRAF, while “pro-
status quo” assemblies were often
allowed to take place unhindered.
And while rights advocates view
freedom of assembly as a basic
right that is not contingent upon
the authorities’ approval via a
permit, it must still be noted
that even in this area there was
The following month, on 14 July, by several opposition MPs and detained under the ISA, known as
police erected roadblocks at 12 state assemblypersons. the HINDRAF Five. In September,
major roads in the capital city the court upheld their detention.
leading to the Parliament to face On the HINDRAF front, seven By October, though it was awaiting
an anticipated rally by the PKR- people were arrested on 11 May registration, the movement was
DAP-PAS coalition to support in Penang in a protest to demand ‘officially’ banned after it attended
the no-confidence motion against for the release of its leaders the PM’s Hari Raya open house
the Prime Minister. Parliament
was made off-limits to supporters
The opposition parties’ attempt to by-pass the restriction in organizing public assemblies, by having it in
or guests of Anwar and other indoor venues such as a stadium, resulted in assemblies that look carnival-like. The Protes gathering in the
opposition MPs. Massive traffic Selangor state against fuel price increase, as below, attracted thousands and had musical and lion dance perfor-
mance. Although no arrest was made, police maintained it is illegal.
congestion resulted around
the city and the fuming public
reportedly sent angry text
messages to the police, putting the
force and the government on the
defensive since the expected rally
did not happen.
On 9 November, police arrested 23
people, including opposition MPs,
from a gathering to commemorate
the anniversary of BERSIH, a civil
society initiated Coalition for Free
and Fair Elections, whose members
include the opposition parties.
Incidents of police aggression were
captured by the media but the
force denied the allegations.
However, amidst public criticism
of the double-standard practices,
there were incidents where
permits were granted to PKR-
organised assemblies, notably
the stadium gathering on 15
September, the day before the
PKR-proclaimed deadline for taking
over the Federal government via
cross-over of BN MPs. Following
the uproar against the sweep on
BERSIH on 9 November, police
permitted an anti-ISA assembly on
16 November that was attended
to submit a memorandum. On 23 parties’ partial success in But for ordinary members of
October, police arrested 12 people, circumventing the law by organising the public or civil society groups
including a six-year-old who was rallies indoors in the opposition- without political leverage, getting
among a group that tried to submit controlled states - such as the a permit for assembly, or being
an appeal letter to the prime Black 14 gathering at the Sultan allowed to demonstrate peacefully
minister. Sulaiman Club, the protest against to conclusion, uninterrupted by
fuel-price hikes and the 15 the police force, remain a rare
Around the time of the court September rally at the Kelana Jaya phenomenon. On 1 June, a CIJ-
decision allowing the detention Stadium - might have created an organised walk for freedom by
of HINDRAF leaders, the illusion of a freer environment. journalists was disallowed, causing
Home Ministry approved on 10 the participants to walk in pairs
September the registration of to avoid the appearance of a
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), a “They are engrossed with gathering. On 13 September, 150
predominantly Indian grassroots demonstration, they are indigenous representatives from
party whose leader Dr Jayakumar demo crazy” all over the country who wanted
Devaraj ousted Malaysian Indian to march to the Palace to submit
Congress president and BN a memorandum to the King were
strongman S. Samy Vellu in the Inspector General Police stopped by police. In December,
general election. The registration Musa Hassan, hitting a peninsular-wide cycling tour to
took them 10 years and the party out at the Oppressed raise awareness on various issues
had filed a Federal Court appeal People’s Network (Jerit) including the abolition of ISA,
against the government rejection. that organized the cycling organised by grassroots group JERIT,
was met with police arrests and
With no legislative changes,
tour across the peninsular. harassment throughout the two-
freedom of assembly remains in Police also attempted to week trip. One of those arrested
government control. Selective charge the organizer for was PSM MP Dr Jayakumar.
prosecution and the opposition endangering minors.
JERIT members and participants of the cycling tour ended their 14-days “ride for change” at the Parliament on 18 Dec and submitted a memorandum to representa-
tives from both ruling and opposition parties. Here the parliamentarian from Machang, Saifuddin Nasution from PKR received the memorandum on the demand for the
repeal of ISA, to pass a Minimum Wage Act for workers, provide affordable housing, stop the privatisation of public facilities, control the prices of goods and restore
local government elections.
– small inroads
he political earthquake grew noticeably more vocal than more space than protests critical
jolted not only the BN those owned or linked to UMNO, of the Federal Government, which
government out of particularly “Utusan Malaysia” and were covered in the general news
complacency but also resulted “New Straits Times”. section.
in noticeable changes in the
mainstream media that had long Hence, there were fairly Nevertheless, when the stakes got
been subservient to the state frequent reports of the Pakatan high for the Federal Government, it
because of ownership and control administration and its member was apparent that the mainstream
factors. Picking up the point that, parties. The difference was in the media had to play up the official
while their news was still being frontpage, which was still reserved view and tune down those of
consumed, they have lost much for the ruling Federal Government the opposition, such as on the
credibility and clout to the freer in BN-owned papers, though unpopular decision to raise fuel
sources of information online, neutral coverage of the Federal prices by 40 percent just after the
the mainstream media took Opposition could be found in general election. (See text box)
steps to offer more than just the other media not linked to the BN,
government’s side of the news; such as “The Sun” and the new Another minor improvement was
media blackout was no longer the Malay tabloid “Sinar Harian”. the state-owned media Radio
major complaint as before. The Television Malaysia (RTM) being
transfer of power in the states to As far as the inside pages of given the green light to feature
the Federal Opposition, which had the mainstream dailies were the Federal Opposition. Newly
the support of 45 percent of the concerned, a discernible pattern minted Information Minister
voting public, made it harder to of balancing official coverage with Ahmad Shabery Cheek scrapped
deny coverage of the non-BN state opposing views could be detected. the pecking-order rule of “Prime
governments. For instance, with the notable Minister first before Info Minister”
exception of the UMNO’s “Utusan and allowed Federal Opposition
The change in the mainstream Malaysia”, several papers were politicians to be invited to
media also reflected the new tenor critical of the government’s plan RTM’s talk programmes. He also
in intra-BN relations. Component to enact a Race Relations Act and initiated a 30-minute live telecast
parties such the Malaysian Chinese the blocking of blogger Raja Petra’s of parliamentary proceedings. In
Association (MCA) were now website. Another interesting trend November, however, the ministry
openly unhappy with UMNO’s was the mushrooming of coverage came under fire for discontinuing
dominance in the ruling coalition, of public assemblies on local issues three talkshows that had as guests
taking heed of their electorate’s as opposed to national issues. Federal Opposition members and
election message. Newspapers Protests by local communities, dissidents - RTM1’s “Bersama KSU”
belonging to these component though featured in the local section (With the Secretary-General),
parties such as MCA’s “The Star”, of the papers, were often given “Semuka Dengan Media” (Face
to Face with Media), and RTM2’s home affairs minister banned “Indeed, since March 8, quite
Mandarin talkshow “What Say You”. Tamil daily “Makkal Osai”. A a number of Malaysians
On the last, which saw the Chinese chorus of protests from the Indian seem to have gone over
community protesting, Shabery community immediately followed
and newspaper editors wrote in
board with the idea that
Cheek said in his defence that the
show was poorly received, citing defence of the daily. CIJ mobilised mainstream media is rapidly
that it only had 170,000 viewers more than 200 people who sent going through the process
per episode at airtime 7pm, Sunday. e-mail messages to the minister of reforming. We really
The minister’s broad stroke did appealing for a revocation of the shouldn’t be so sanguine.
little to explain why the decision ban, which they achieved on 25 We certainly must not see
took effect abruptly. Nor did it April.
the “mainstream media” as a
shed light on how such decisions
were made in the Information More worryingly, the government monolithic entity, because it
Ministry, since a state broadcaster refloated the Media Council plan is not.”
would not typically produce as part of its National Media - Zaharom Nain, media
programmes for commercial Policy with a renewed sense of scholar
sustainability. The episode showed urgency. Though journalists groups,
that despite its apparently bloggers and civil society, including
CIJ, were consulted in November
“There is never really
best efforts, the Information
Ministry was still ill-at-ease with over the plan, it is very likely a loosening, not when
engaging the public in transparent that the government will ignore you have a division in
arguments. their objections and establish the government whose job is to
Council on top of the existing monitor the press (and other
While 2008 has been an restrictive laws. This may turn outpublications), when there are
encouraging year as there was a to be a major challenge for media
freedom in 2009.
laws which say the minister
surge, especially in the immediate
months after the election, of can shut you down without
discussion in the mainstream media In comparison, Pakatan MPs set notice and his action cannot
for greater press freedom and a more positive tone for greater be challenge in court....you
doing away with the law restricting press freedom by committing in think it is less restrictive,
them, the government remained April 2008 to the setting up of a so you push the envelope
mostly unmoved. Instead, the public parliamentary caucus on media
a little further until there is
was promised piecemeal measures freedom and being receptive to the
to relax the licencing requirement civil society’s memorandum for law a tug (in the form of action
for publications. For one, Home reform. against other publications
Minister Syed Hamid Albar said or a gentle reminder) and
publications might be allowed to you start checking yourself
make a one-off instead of annual again. The leash may be
application for a licence, but as the
loosened, but the noose
year came to an end, that rhetoric
also dissipated. remains.”
-Chong Cheng Hai,editor,
The licencing provision continued theSun.
to be employed as a punishment Both quoted from “March
tool of the Executive. On 16 8-The Day Malaysia Woke
April, citing vague reasons, the
The Star A COMPARISON
BETWEEN HEADLINES OF
DIFFERENT NEWSPAPERS ON
In this instant, The Star, New Straits Tines, and theSun
have neutral headlines on the four perliamentarians from
PKR who protested the rise in fuel price by cycling to
the Parliament. A stark constrast to the three is Utusan
Malaysia, whose headlines “Publisiti murahan: 4 anggota
PKR berbasikal ke parlimen” (Cheap publicity: 4 PKR
members cycled to the Parliament), is a direct lift
from how the BN Minister, Nazri Aziz described
the exercise. It revealed that the paper’s
editorial is synonymous with the
agenda of its owner, UMNO.
Box- An observation of columns on Pakatan Rakyat
he comeback of the opposition parties and their grouping under the stunning performance of the
opposition parties during the 12th general elections as a coalition (later formalised as Pakatan Rakyat)
proved too hot a newsmaker to be ignored. A remarkable response from the media was the increase
in columns and analyses on Pakatan.
More than just attention on governance in the Pakatan-held states (Kelantan, Selangor, Perak, Penang
and Kedah) , these columns also zeroed in on the pact’s various hurdles along the path of coalition building,
stemming from the ideological differences between the Islamic Pas and the more secular PKR and DAP. But
the columns inevitably gravitated towards Anwar Ibrahim, the de-facto leader of Pakatan. Thus the second
sodomy charge against Anwar Ibrahim, his contest in the Permatang Pauh by-election and the plan to
takeover the government on Sept 16 stole the limelight.
To get an idea on the media’s treatment of the opposition parties post 2008, CIJ conducted an analysis
of the columns in three English national dailies - NST, The Star and theSun, on the above discussions. Not
included in the analysis were the issues of governance and the supposed defection plan involving Barisan
Nasional Members of Parliament to the Pakatan. The latter two subjects merit a more in-depth study than
the observation can provide.
Acknowledging the small scope, the observation, from April till mid-Dec, tracked a subtle shift in the
mainstream journalism away from the dominance of BN. In general, there are more balanced discussion
on Pakatan in papers that are ownership-wise less related to UMNO. However, the fact that newspapers
use columns to discuss Pakatan also indicate the premium that the ruling government put news space. The
paper can distance itself from a column by putting a disclaimer or axing it at anytime, while a news report
is more liable of risking the wrath of the Home Ministry, as the example of Sin Chew shows. The daily was
issued a show-cause letter and its reporter, Tan Hoon Cheng was arrested under the ISA for a two para
story about the racial remark by Ahmad Ismail.
theSun published the least materials among the three newspapers and most of it were not columns in
the strictest sense. It reproduced direct interviews with Anwar Ibrahim and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail from
Chinese dailies but also featured its own interviews with individuals in Pakatan. Despite the relatively few
materials, the majority were positive in the coverage. Among the three, only theSun had been relatively
consistent in its questioning of the circumstances around the sodomy allegation and the credibility of the
state agencies pressing charges against Anwar. When Anwar made his debut speech in Parliament as
opposition leader, theSun provided a factual coverage of Anwar’s speech on the front page. This was in
contrast to the other two dailies which published a column analyzing Anwar’s demeanor instead.
The Star was the most prolific in publishing columns on Pakatan. In addition to staff writers, the
paper had external columnists such as Karim Raslan and Baradan Kuppusamy, though they did not write
exclusively about Pakatan’s politics. The variety of views and slants, sometimes published on the same day,
was a refreshing change. Among the 33 pieces observed, 19 were considered neutral, eight positive and six
critical of Pakatan.
Of the total of 16 columns observed, they were split almost equally between neutral and critical in slant,
leaving none for positive portrayal. But even among the neutral stories, some were implicitly biased against
Pakatan through over emphasizing the pact’s sticky situation. During the Permatang Pauh by-election, the
columns exhibited pro-government fervour by projecting a tough chance for PKR to win, despite the prevailing
sentiment which was translated into the voting results in favour of PKR. In a column about the contest
between Pas and UMNO in the Kuala Terengganu by-election, the issue of phantom voters were discussed less
as a problem of the electoral system than as mischiefs deliberately played up by the opposition parties.
Media ethics and hazards of
“It is an unfortunate reflection of our sexist and racist
society, that the combination (a Chinese woman in a
predominantly Malay male environment), can have
unexpected and unpleasant consequences and one
of these is that she has become a key target for many
mainstream Malay language journalists”
-Karim Raslan on Selangor state Exco Teresa Kok, in his
column Ceritalah, The Star, 16 Sept.
he closely connected issues of media ethics and journalists’ safety got a long-overdue highlight in 2008,
thanks to the intense rivalry between BN and Pakatan.
Media ethics took a worrying turn after the election in the UMNO-owned Malay language dailies. CIJ
monitoring revealed that pro-BN, anti-Federal-Opposition and racist reporting increased. The banning of
HINDRAF and the arrest of the Selangor state exco Teresa Kok, a DAP MP, under the ISA in September
are both traceable to the unethical reporting by “Utusan Malaysia”. In Kok’s case, the paper appeared to
deliberately targetting her.
In September, based on information from anonymous sources and former Selangor Menteri Besar Khir Toyo,
the paper accused her of offending religious practices of Muslims and Kok was later arrested under the ISA.
Interestingly, Khir distanced himself from the Malay daily when Kok threatened to sue him upon her release
a week later. A public spate also developed between the legislator and the paper when it rubbished her
complaint about the food served during her detention. Shortly after, the paper took issue on her choice of
apparel at a mosque. In October, the newspaper published a short story that ended with the assassination of
the protagonist whose description fits Kok. In the ensuing outrage from civil society, the writer, former senior
editor Chamil Wariya, denied that he was depicting Kok.
Kok’s suit against “Utusan Malaysia” ignited a debate about media freedom and its limits. “Utusan Malaysia” saw
the suit as another proof of Pakatan’s false stand on media freedom, and more disconcertingly, as an assault to
the Malay cultural institution. Civil society was accused of advocating a Westernised notion of press freedom
ill-suited to the Malaysian context.
CIJ maintained that it was the right of an aggrieved individual to seek redress for media offences at the civil
courts, as provided by the law, after exhausting all democratic avenues, especially when there is reasonable
ground of damage to the reputation or privacy. The contention with media freedom in Malaysia has always
been that the ruling coalition and its allies have, using restrictive laws and via ownership, disproportionately
more access to mainstream media and the means to shape discourse than the rest of society. In the absence
of fairplay for Kok, her right to sue after the paper rejected the option to apologise or clarify its editorial
stand should not be denied, though the demanded monetary compensation must not be excessive as to put
journalists out of commission.
In view of the lack of positive policy changes
and law reform to free the media, legislation and
ownership continued to be effective in making
Malaysian mainstream journalists toe the official
or the party line. The difference in 2008 was that
the line had grown a little wider, thanks to the
externally compelled push from a stronger Federal
Opposition. There were occasional attempts to test
the line farther, but these were always from media
organisations not as closely tied to the ruling political
parties, such as “The Sun”, “Makkal Osai” and the
Mandarin paper “Oriental Daily”. Even so, these dailies
are also usually subject to the Home Affairs Ministry’s
rebuke and threat of suspension. “The Sun” and “Sin
Chew Daily” were issued show-cause letters on 12
September, the same day as the three ISA arrests, for
allegedly reporting on racial issues. “Makkal Osai”
was briefly suspended in April, while “Oriental Daily”
had to impose self-censorship in its election coverage
fearing for its (then) yet-to-be renewed license.
Continued biased coverage in favour of the Federal
Government not only harmed the mainstream media
in terms of credibility, it also led the proverbial brunt
being borne by the messenger in the form of violence
committed on photographers and restrictions on
certain media outlets despite both parties putting
press freedom on their campaign agenda.
There were at least two physical assault cases that
implicated the PKR: a female photographer covering
party adviser Anwar Ibrahim was manhandled by
people alleged to be the party’s security personnel, Media covearge on the assault of journalists by attackers allegely associated with
and two photographers were attacked at the highly PKR. In the uppermost picture, The Star reported that Loh Hoon Heong, photog-
rapher from “Guang Ming” daily was choked and hit on the head by a security
charged Permatang Pauh by-election that was Anwar’s personnel. NST reported that Halim Berbar, from the HBL Agency, was attacked
parliamentary gateway. (see appendix) by a group when he tried to rescue fellow photographer, Sairien Nafiz, from being
the target of the group. Halim submitted a memorandum to the government ask-
ing for better respect and protection for media proffesionals. CIJ pictures.
In addition, citing unethical practices, Pakatan
attempted to bar media professionals with “Utusan
Malaysia” and “Berita Harian” at least four times from
their events. The party leadership, while apologetic
about the assault cases and promising investigation,
however showed little interest in demanding redress
The presence of the Light Strike Unit at the Permatang Pauh by-election. Following the photographers assault case and the ensuing wide coverage, BN politicians
called the by-election the “most violent ever”. Picture by Danny Lim, courtesy of FAN.
via the right of reply for their CIJ monitoring revealed that Osai”, which saw newspaper
alleged grievances with the physical and verbal assaults editors crossing the line of political
UMNO-owned media. on journalists, particularly ownership to openly disagree with
photographers, were more the ban. The second happened on
The Federal Government was common than generally perceived. 24 June, when media workers were
strong in its criticism against the The perpetrators were both the barred from the Parliament lobby,
incidents, but the reaction was ordinary members of the public where journalists often congregate
largely targetted at PKR for not and politicians from both sides of to interview with MPs; the head
walking its ‘media freedom’ talk. the divide. Generally unaccustomed of Parliament thought there were
The heat generated rare media to defending its own given the too many journalists at the august
attention on the issue of safety of restrictions it works under and house getting in the way of the
journalists and media freedom, but the poor understanding of the MPs. Journalists and photographers
only on the two cases involving Fourth Estate’s role in general, the united to boycott parliamentarians’
PKR. De-facto Law Minister Nazri media gave such incidents minimal speech except during the main
Aziz said the issue would be raised coverage, which might lead to proceedings, and succeeded in
in the Cabinet following the assault more cases of impunity in 2009 if getting the ruling shelved a day
on “NST” photographer Sairien unaddressed. later. Also in June, CIJ worked
Nafis and French photojournalist with other civil society groups
Halim Berbar in Permatang Pauh However, two incidents of like BENAR (Truth) and Writers
during the by-election, but interest solidarity among the media Alliance for Media Independence
fizzled out by the time it was over. professionals stood out in 2008. (WAMI) to organise a journalists’
The first was the ban on “Makkal walk for media freedom.
Appendix I I
Attacks and threats against journalists
26 Feb “Harian Metro” reporter Mohd. Rashidi Karim and “Berita Harian” reporter Adha Ghazali are
attacked by a group said to be BN supporters while covering the election campaigning in the
Perlis state capital Kangar. The outgoing Perlis Menteri Besar Shahidan Kassim apologises for the
incident on 18 Feb.
6 May Police question journalists R. Nadeswaran and Terence Fernandez from “The Sun” over their
expose of Balkis, the Association of Wives of Selangor Assemblymen, transferring out funds soon
after BN lost the Selangor state to Pakatan Rakyat.
12 May Police reportedly question reporters in connection with DAP MP Karpal Singh’s statement that
questioned the jurisdiction of the Perak royalty.
27 May Around 20 thugs, armed with clubs, parangs and clubs, turn on “Utusan Malaysia” photographer
Roy Azis Abdul Aziz and “Merdeka Review” journalist Chow Z Lam after the two catch them in
action against Bandar Mahkota Cheras residents in Kuala Lumpur; the residents were attempting
to demolish a barricade preventing access to a toll-free road.
11 June “Sin Chew Daily” reporter Chen Shi Chuan, who is based in Sitiawan, Perak, is attacked by nearly
30 people while covering a fatal road accident.
24 June Parliament bars journalists from the lobby area, often used to interview MPs. After a boycott
threat by the journalists and protest from the MPs, the ruling is shelved on 25 June.
1 July As part of the PKR policy to boycott Malay daily “Utusan Malaysia”, the daily’s reporter is barred
from an event at the party’s headquarters in Petaling Jaya.
15 July Four photographers covering the televised debate between PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim
and Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek are assaulted by security personnels at
Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature), where the debate is held.
Photographers Zulkifli Ersal of “The Sun”, Khairul Hasnor Mohd Khalili of “The Edge”, Othman
Abu Bakar from “The Edge Financial Daily”, and cameraperson Hanafiah Hamzah from Channel
News Asia are also prevented from taking pictures of the speakers by security personnels.
3 Aug A “Guang Ming Daily” photographer covering Anwar Ibrahim’s public speech is assaulted by a
group of people who are alleged to be PKR security personnel. Loh Hoon Heong says they tailed,
surrounded, kicked and choked her. PKR president Wan Azizah apologises over the incident but
the party denies the attackers were their security team.
18 Aug While covering the Permatang Pauh by-election, two photographers from “New Straits Times”
and HBL Press Agency are beaten by a group after the former takes pictures of them harassing a
passing vehicle belonging to the BN. The group is believed to be PKR supporters.
11 Sept PKR bars an “Utusan Malaysia” reporter from covering its function at the Negeri Sembilan state.
10 Nov Police arrest and question “Malaysiakini” videographer Shukri Mohamad at BERSIH’s first
anniversary gathering. They stop “Suara Keadilan” reporter Shafiq Sunny and photographer Mohd
Fahmi from covering the police action against those gathered.
21 Oct Malaysiakini journalist Wong Choon Mei resigns for publishing a manifesto that allegedly comes
from Prime-Minister-in-waiting Najib Abdul Razak, which he refutes.
12 Nov “Utusan Malaysia” photographer Najib Mohd Nor is prevented from taking pictures of Perak
Menteri Besar Nizar Jamaluddin being served a legal notice to apologise to his UMNO
predecessor Tajol Rosli.
16 Dec While on duty covering an MIC meeting, “Makkal Osai” reporter S.Venugar is warned by MIC
President S. Samy Vellu not to publish his story. The party strongman also seizes photographer M.
and online media barely
tolerated - but for how long?
he general election revealed to control the Internet.
the government’s fangs
when it came to the freer Paradoxically, even as the new
online media. Critical bloggers media received its strongest threat
continued to be targetted, and in the persecution and prosecution
right on the bull’s eye was Raja of its most influential dissident,
Petra Kamaruddin. The government the virtual world also got a boost
mounted criminal charges against in July with the issuance of press
him, blocked his website, raided accreditations to the nine-year-
his house and seized his computer, old multilingual “Malaysiakini” and
and detained him for two months Mandarin online daily “Merdeka
under the ISA for his postings on Review”. The year also witnessed
Islam and the high-profile murder two new for-profit online news
of a Mongolian national. Two other and features sites, “The Malaysian
bloggers, Syed Azidi Syed Hamid Insider” and “The Nut Graph”,
and Abdul Rashid Abu Bakar, both run by former print
were remanded for investigation journalists.
for allegedly insulting the state’s
symbols; they were later released In July, instead of dismissing the
on bail. online discussion on national
issues, the Federal Government
Yet, the general election drove actually engaged with an altercating
home the point that the public on issues such as the petrol
government could no longer price hike in a televised debate
antagonise the repressed voices that saw the previously treated-as-
that found an outlet for expression taboo politician Anwar Ibrahim as
via the Internet. Though the one of the major speakers.
government attempted to stem
the tide of free-flow information Blogging was given an inadvertent
in critical blogs, for example by boost when several senior
blocking Raja Petra’s site and government officials and ruling
threatening investigation of several party members joined the
sites, its efforts proved futile. Raja blogosphere to resuscitate or
Petra’s mirror site was up soon as boost their popularity and to
the original was blocked and the better reach the youths in their
“Berani kerana benar” block was much criticised even constituency. Among them were
(Courage for the truth) in the usually subservient major Prime-Minister-in-waiting Najib
-Label/Motto/Name of the dailies. Toward the end of the Abdul Razak and former Selangor
personal website of the year, a proposal to set up a Media Menteri Besar Khir Toyo, but
Minister of Home Affairs, Council, was strongly suspected to outshining them all was retired
Syed Hamid Albar. be the government’s next attempt prime minister Dr Mahathir
Mohamad who continues making
his voice heard loud and clear via
his highly popular blog, “chedet.
com”, which focused on criticism
of his successor’s administration. BN POLITICIANS TURNED BLOGGERS/WEBSITE
While some bloggers remained on
the Federal Government’s blacklist,
* Former Selangor chief minister, Khir Toyo starts a blog on 31 March
others were cultivated as guests
or participants at government * Malacca Chief Minister and UMNO Vice President, Mohd Ali Rustam
functions in the hopes of raising starts a blog on 10 April.
the authorities’ standing online
and improving their usually * UMNO Information Chief, Muhammad Muhammad Taib, who wanted
Raja Petra Kamaruddin prosecuted, becomes a blogger on 21 April
confrontational relationship. The
efforts almost bore fruit as one * Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad starts his blog on 1 May.
bloggers’ meet discussed whether He once said he was reluctant to allow no Internet censorship in the
they should adopt a voluntary Multimedia Bill of Guarantee.
code of ethics. However, since the
* UMNO Youth launches its blog on 11 June
suggestion came from the home
affairs minister and was echoed by * MCA President Ong Tee Keat launches his second website, www.
the subservient National Union ongteekeat.net on 9 Aug, in addition to www.ongteekeat.com
of Journalists (NUJ), the blogging
community largely viewed it as * Najib Tun Razak set up his personal website, www.1Malaysia.com.my
lacking credibility and a disguised
move toward online censorship.
Indeed, the persecution of Raja based on rumours (something On another more menacing level,
Petra Kamarudin was perhaps which Raja Petra himself admitted however, the various actions
the best illustration on the state in an interview with international against him were a potent
of freedom of expression in broadcaster Al-Jazeera), to fill the reminder that the online space was
Malaysia on several levels. The gaps in information and to express not the haven that the Multimedia
popularity of his site, “Malaysia dissatisfaction with the ruling Bill of Guarantee had projected
Today”, reflected the inability of Federal Government in power through its no-censorship clause,
the shackled mainstream media since the country’s independence. and the Federal Government rarely
to provide the public with the Little surprise that the persecution relaxed control of public discussion
information they need and be the of Raja Petra magnified public and dissemination of ideas and
watchdog of the powerful and support for him, as evidenced by was more than willing to use the
powers that be. Internet-savvy the crowds that thronged the current laws against online writers
citizens turn to “Malaysia Today” courtroom during his trial and the and content providers.
despite the questionable sources public drive and vigils to demand
of its contents, much of which is for his release from ISA detention.
Access to Information - the biggest gain
he political change also boosted the possibility of access to information legislation, either at
federal or state levels. Civil society groups have engaged state governments in the Pakatan
Rakyat states to propose the enactment of state-level freedom of information (FOI) laws. The
Selangor and Penang state governments have made public announcements to introduce FOI laws in
their states within the year. In June 2008, Member of Parliament for Subang from PKR, R. Sivarasa,
tabled a Private Member’s Bill on the FOI. Unfortunately, opposition motions in Parliament often are
not given priority and pushed over for government-led bills. With the BN government opposed to
the enactment of an FOI, prospects of a federal-level law are dim.
On disclosure of public information, a breakthrough of sorts was seen in the Works Ministry’s
releasing of controversial concession agreements with 11 private highway toll companies. In early
January 2009, the ministry allowed limited public viewing of the contracts on its premises, sparking
calls for more disclosure of such contracts.
Recommendations and hopes for 2009
xpectations remained high for Pakatan MPs in 2009 to move on to a set of concrete agendas
and roadmap for the caucus to be multi-partied. The setting up of a caucus is urgent not only
as a platform to prepare for law reform, but also to discuss the issue of media professionalism,
which has been controversially linked to Pakatan.
To encourage the solidarity among journalists, a platform is needed for journalists to bring in the
open the principles and state of the profession beyond its commercial aspects. Journalists need to
be represented and heard on issues relating to their safety, their right to information, the impact of
media commercialisation and political ownership, and the legislative restrictions they are forced to
CIJ in 2008
he Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) continued its work in advocacy, community
training and research during the year under review, gaining ground in awareness-raising on
threats against journalists and media freedom, and in law reform. A summary of the activities
are described here.
Access to Information
* CIJ collaborated in efforts to support the MP for Subang, R. Sivarasa, to table a Private Member’s
Bill on the FOI in June 2008. Unfortunately, the state of our Parliament, which continues to be
dominated by an unrepentant ruling party that has rarely looked at issues across the board and based
on merit rather than sponsorship, means that bills from the federal opposition are unlikely to see the
light of day.
* At the state level, with the collaboration of CSI Parliament and Coalition for Good Governance, CIJ
and the Selangor state government has established a Task Force on FOI. The state government has
committed to enact an FOI law by the middle of 2009.
* CIJ is also working closely with Transparency International on outreach work, which will start with
a Training of Trainers in January 2009.
Media Defence, protection of journalists and free
* CIJ has been issuing alerts on violations of freedom of expression
since 2004. We have used this opportunity to raise these issues at the
international level and have had Reporters Without Borders and the
Committee to Protect Journalists responding to the threats against
journalists and bloggers.
* In November 2008, CIJ and other civil society groups which include
the Bar Council Human Rights Committee, Suaram and Komas,
submitted a memo to the Parliament and government on the need for
One of the highlight events by CIJ is the Walk for a select committee on media law reforms.
Media Freedom , jointly organized by Benar for
Free and Fair Media, Writers’ Alliance for Media
Independence and supported by All-Blogs and Community media and training
National Union of Journalists. Particpants, wear-
ing the button badges above walked for a short
distance from the Merdeka Square to Press Club at * Our training on audio reporting with communities (orang asli, urban
poor, etc) is gaining ground. We are linking up with activists to combine
training on human rights and communication rights. As in every year,
we participated in the 16-Day Campaign to end Gender Violence by
using ICT to promote awareness on the issue and increase women’s
participation in the campaign.
* We have hooked up with a number of associations and individuals
who have participated in our audio training and journalism training.
Research on Internet censorship and surveillance
* This is part of a global project by the Open Net Initiative, whose
Malaysian report is coordinated and produced by CIJ in collaboration
with the Association for Progressive Communications-Women’s
Networking Support Programme to introduce a gender framework for
analysis of Internet space.
CIJ collaborated with the Annex Gallery on the
Exhibition on the Federal Constitution in Sept to
raise awareness of the various amendments made
One of the trainings
communities. Here CIJ
and indegenous group
Jaringan Orang Asal
train community leaders
on ICT and media rights.
Appendix II I
Freedom of expression (FoE) in the year 2008
3 Jan Despite renewing the licence of Catholic weekly “The Herald”, whose licence for the Malay
language segment was however terminated in December 2007, the Cabinet decides that the
publication cannot use the word “Allah”. Other words prohibited for non-Muslim publications
are “solat”, “kaabah” and “baitullah”.
5 Jan Police use water cannon to disperse 300 people at a vigil against the Internal Security Act (ISA)
on Jalan Lebuh Pasar in the capital city Kuala Lumpur.
6 Jan Police arrest eight people who distributed anti-government pamphlets outside the Terengganu
state High Court, which was holding the trial of participants of the BERSIH roadshow for free
and fair elections in Batu Burok town.
7 Jan Then Minister of Information Zainuddin Maidin asked Malaysian media to censor themselves
when reporting about the Indonesians in the country and suggested the Indonesian media
to do the same. At that time, the papers were rife with news on court cases about abuse of
Indonesian domestic workers by their local employers and criminal activities by Indonesian
14 Jan The Internal Security Ministry tells “The Sun” daily that it seized, from bookshops nationwide,
163 non-Islamic books that allegedly had the word “Allah” to “study” them in an operation to
check publications from tarnishing public order and morality.
14 Jan Eight more, including a 16-year-old, are charged for illegal assembly from a group that had
gathered at the Batu Caves temple to take part in the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF)
rally in November 2007. A total of 66 people are claiming trial.
26 Jan Police arrest 56, including politicians from the Federal Opposition parties and online daily
“Malaysiakini” reporter Syed Jamal Zahiid at a rally against rising prices. On the day before,
roadblocks were erected around the venue, the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, to prevent
outstation people from attending. Two days before, organiser Protes (Coalition Against Inflation)
was warned by police to abandon the plan.
28 Jan Thirty-four are charged for participating in the Protes rally (see above); among them leaders
from the Federal Opposition Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
30 Jan Eleven books in English and Malay about Islam are banned for “deviating” from the “true
15 Feb “Malaysiakini” reports that vocal Chinese daily “Oriental Daily News” has released a self-
censorship-styled guideline to its reporters on coverage of the general election to come, in the
light of the uncertain state of its licence which has been awaiting renewal since December 2007.
18 Feb Police said that election candidates are required by police to submit a complete list of their
campaigning speeches, including dates, venue and topics, after nomination.
24 March Police warn supporters and members of UMNO in Terengganu from gathering over a tussle
between the party and the royalty on who should be the state’s Menteri Besar following the 8
March general election.
31 March Home Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar bans Dutch lawmaker Gerth Wilders’ short, “Fitna”,
which links Islam with acts of terrorism.
2 April The National Fatwa Council rules that “Fitna” is an insult to Islam and calls for a boycott of
Appendix II I
Continued from previous page
16 April Police question four leaders of the PKR over the Black 14 gathering in Kuala Lumpur, organised
to celebrate the end of a five-year ban on party adviser Anwar Ibrahim from active politics.
Before that, police also warned the public from attending the gathering despite it being held in a
private venue, the Sultan Sulaiman club. The gathering attracted 10,000 people.
16 April Tamil language daily “Makkal Osai” is banned for “breaching permit guidelines”, though the
Home Affairs Minister did not specify the said guidelines. Following protests from the public and
the media fraternity, the ban was lifted on 25 April.
20 April Police warn the public of potential arrest if they sabotaged the Olympic torch relay whose Kuala
Lumpur leg was scheduled for 21 April.
1 May Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek
want the live TV coverage of parliamentary proceedings to be cancelled after the members of
Parliament (MPs) were shown using crude language. However, the Cabinet decided against the
decision in June.
1 May Police cordon off the Merdeka Square in an attempt to block a group from gathering there to
demand for better workers’ conditions. The 200-strong gathering is reduced to a walk in pairs
to a nearby location, minus banners and rallying shouts.
6 May Blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin is charged under the Sedition Act over his blog posting
questioning the investigation of the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaaribuu. A
commentator on his blog, Syed Akbar Ali, was also charged.
11 May Police arrest seven in the Penang state for participating in a protest by HINDRAF to demand
for the release of its leaders in ISA.
11 May Police question Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader Karpal Singh over his statement about
the jurisdiction of the Perak state royalty following a police report lodged by UMNO Youth on
5 May. The Federal Opposition MP reveals on 12 May that there are 20 reports lodged against
him on the matter.
14 May The Federal Court rules the ISA detention of HINDRAF leaders as lawful, allowing them to be
detained for the initial two years as provided by the law.
15 May Police tell the press that they are investigating some UMNO members under the Sedition Act
for criticising the royalty in Terengganu and Perlis, two states where the royalty rejected the
UMNO-backed candidates for the Menteri Besar post.
16 May The government lodge a police report against several media outlets for publishing the Royal
Commission of Inquiry on the V.K. Lingam video clip before it is made public.
20 May Karpal Singh receives a death threat over his statement about the royalty (see above).
26 May The Ministry of Energy, Water and Communication reveals that 22 websites are being
investigated, including 17 that have been blocked. The Ministry was also investigating a clip in the
website of the British Defence Ministry depicting a Malay as terrorist. On 29 May, the British
government withdrew the clip.
6 June Police warn the public from going to the streets following the rise in fuel prices. The warning is
repeated on 11 June.
12 June Police questioned BERSIH committee members, Faisal Mustafa and Medaline Chang, on the
coalition’s roles in the November 2007 rally.
Appendix II I
Continued from previous page
14 June Police arrest three MPs who participated in a rally to the Palace to demand the release of
HINDRAF leaders held under ISA since 2007. The MPs were released on bail that day.
16 June Two more are charged for participating in Protes’ January gathering against rising prices, in
addition to the 35 already charged.
24 June Police warn that those who spread text-messaged “rumours” about an impending strike by
petrol station owners will be arrested under the ISA.
26 June The Home Affairs Minister says the government is formulating a national media policy to
regulate press freedom in the country.
3 July Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) President Samy Vellu filed a defamation suit against Tamil daily
“Malaysian Nanban” for publishing a story deemed libellous.
3 July A police report is lodged against the Malaysian Bar Council for organising a public forum on
the Malaysian ‘social contract’, a widely believed historical agreement about the positions of the
various ethnic groups in the country in relation to each other. On 29 June, the prime minister
says the forum should not be held as it would offend the Malay community.
6 July Police warn people off from another Protes street rally in the PKR-ruled Selangor state,
prompting the Menteri Besar to move the venue to a stadium. But the police still deem the
9 July A local councillor in the PKR-ruled Selangor state, M. Sunthararajo, lodges a police report
against private broadcaster TV3, alleging false reporting.
14 July Police erect roadblocks at 12 major roads leading to the Parliament to prevent an anticipated
rally by the PKR-DAP-PAS alliance to support a no-confidence motion against the Prime
minister. Parliament was made off-limits to guests of PKR adviser Anwar Ibrahim and the
Federal Opposition MPs. However, no rally transpires, as the Federal Opposition assured earlier.
16 July Police use water cannon against 700 who gathered in the city in support of Anwar Ibrahim, who
faces a new charge of sodomy following his highly expected return to Parliament at the end of a
five-year ban for corruption related to a sodomy verdict that was later overturned.
17 July Blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin is charged under three counts of criminal defamation over his
statutory declaration linking the deputy prime minister’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, and two others
with the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaaribuu.
31 July The government threatens action against Hospital Pusrawi for leaking medical information
about the accuser of Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy case, Saiful Bukhari Azlan. This comes after
“Malaysiakini” reveals a medical report on Saiful as not showing signs of being sodomised. On
18 June, the doctor who examined Saiful, Mohamed Osman Abdul Hamid, makes a statutory
declaration defending his report.
7 Aug Police arrest blogger Abu Bakar Mohd Rashid, known also as “Penarik Beca”, for publishing a
modified emblem of the police force in his blog. After apologising, he is released on 8 August.
7 Aug 7 Aug - Police arrest four from HINDRAF for staging a gathering at the venue of the
Commonwealth Parliamentarian Conference demanding the release of their ISA-detained
9 Aug 9 Aug - PAS Youth in the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory calls for a ban on Canadian artist Avril
Lavigne’s concert, scheduled on 29 August.
Appendix II I
Continued from previous page
9 Aug A forum by The Malaysian Bar Council on the legal complications arising from a spouse’s
conversion to Islam is disrupted by Muslim protesters from both ruling and opposition parties,
who say the forum is challenging Islamic teachings and the position of Muslim Malays. Prior to
the forum, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and PAS leaders voiced their objection to
10 Aug UMNO and PAS leaders urged ISA and the Sedition Act to be used against Bar Council for
organising the forum.
11 Aug UMNO Youth in Johor lodges a police report against the Bar Council over the forum.
12 Aug The prime minister calls for a stop to public discussion about the race and religion.
12 Aug “The Herald” is reported to have been issued a show-cause letter by the Ministry of Home
Affairs for publishing political articles, a charge the paper denies.
14 Aug A Malay student group lodges a police report against the Selangor Menteri Besar for
suggesting a 10 percent intake of non-Malay students in the Malay-exclusive Institute Teknologi
Mara (UiTM) to improve competitiveness. UiTM students also march in protest against the
14 Aug The Home Affairs Ministry bans two books on Islam - one, a publication by Muslim women
17 Aug Prominent UMNO-linked lawyer and National Human Rights Commissioner SUHAKAM
member Shafee Abdullah lodges a police report against blogger Raja Petra for alleging his
involvement in Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy charge.
17 Aug A court fines 27 participants of a 2007 HINDRAF rally were fined RM1,000 each.
19 Aug The Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry scraps Avril Lavigne’s concert, but reverses the
decision on 23 Aug.
22 Aug Police raid blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin’s house and confiscate his laptop, scanner and some
documents in connection with the Pusrawi doctor’s statutory declaration.
27 Aug Raja Petra Kamarudin’s blog, “Malaysia Today”, is blocked by order of the Malaysian
Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). After public protest and subsequent
denial by the MCMC, the block is lifted on 11 Sept. Its mirror site continued operating while
the block was in place.
30 Aug BN component party Gerakan lodges a police report against an UMNO divisional leader, Ahmad
Ismail, about his reported statement on the immigrant origins of the Chinese in the country.
The statement draws flak from Chinese leaders from both sides of the political divide as well as
from the community, prompting the deputy prime minister to apologise on behalf on UMNO.
Ahmad Ismail is adamant that his statement is fair and blamed the media for putting it out of
context. Two other reporters come forward on 6 Sept to confirm hearing his words. On 9 Sept,
“Sin Chew Daily”, which reported the statement, denies playing it up.
3 Sept Police say Ahmad Ismail is being investigated under the Sedition Act.
4 Sept Police question Raja Petra Kamarudin on allegation that the Pusrawi medical report originated
from his blog.
5 Sept The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) lodges a police report against
blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin for allegedly insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
Appendix II I
Continued from previous page
9 Sept Court upheld the continued detention of the “Hindraf Five” under ISA.
10 Sept UMNO Bukit Bendera division leader Ahmad Ismail is suspended from the party.
11 Sept The Home Affairs Ministry issues a reminder to media to comply with its guidelines after lifting
the block on “Malaysia Today”.
12 Sept The Home Affairs Ministry issues show-cause letters to newspapers “The Sun” and “Sin Chew
Daily” and PKR organ “Suara Keadilan” for “breaching publications guidelines”.
12 Sept Raja Petra Kamarudin, Selangor State Exco Teresa Kok and “Sin Chew Daily” journalist Tan Hoon
Cheng are arrested under the ISA. The arrests drew strong protests, not only from Federal
Opposition parties and the civil society, but also Minister in PM’s Department Zaid Ibrahim and
BN component parties Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), MIC and Gerakan. The Home
Affairs Minister bears much ridicule for saying that the journalist was arrested to protect her
from death threats.
14 Sept SUHAKAM condemns the arrest of the journalist, a day after she is freed.
15 Sept UMNO Youth Chief Hishamuddin Hussein voices disagreement with the use of the ISA against
the journalist, while outspoken Perlis mufti Dr. Asri Zainul Abidin criticises its use. Minister Zaid
Ibrahim announces his resignation in protest of the arrests. The resignation is accepted on 16
Sept, with several UMNO leaders welcoming it.
16 Sept The government starts a discussion on enacting a Race Relations law without committing to
relaxing other restrictive laws nor offering details of the plan for the new law.
17 Sept Blogger Azidi Syed Aziz, known as “Sheih Kickdefella”, is remanded for publishing an upside-
down national flag in his blog.
19 Sept State Exco Teresa Kok, who is also a Federal Opposition MP, is freed from ISA. Police say they
have completed investigation on the allegation by “Utusan Malaysia” that she prohibited a
mosque from amplifying the dawn call for prayer (azan).
20 Sept Blogger Azidi Syed Aziz is freed from police detention. On the same day, the Home Affairs
minister says the ISA will not be reviewed despite calls by BN component parties.
20 Sept The Education Ministry ‘asks’ teachers not to discuss political issues in classrooms.
23 Sept Student rapper Wee Meng Chee is questioned by the police over his controversial rendition of
the national anthem, posted in popular video-sharing site YouTube in 2007.
23 Sept Blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin is given a two-year detention under the ISA for allegedly
“ridiculing” Islam and sent to the Kamunting camp. He is also to undergo “religious
26 Sept Police confiscate anti-ISA leaflets and disperse protesters in Kuala Lumpur.
27 Sept Two molotov cocktails and a threatening note are thrown into the residence of MP Teresa Kok.
9 Oct Teresa Kok files a RM30mil suit against “Utusan Malaysia” over an article alleging that she
stopped mosque from broadcasting the azan, which led to her arrest under ISA. In response,
an UMNO division starts a fund to help the daily and accuses the Federal Opposition MP of
challenging the Malay honour.
Continued from previous page
14 Oct “Utusan Malaysia” demands Teresa Kok to retract her claim that the daily has “twisted” her
statement about the poor food she was served with while under ISA detention.
14 Oct Three men are fined RM2,000 for disrupting the 2006 Article 11 forum on freedom of
religion, which also touched on conversion into Islam.
14 Oct The MCMC prohibits private broadcaster ntv7 from broadcasting live the debate between
the MCA candidates for the party’s vice president post, citing late application.
15 Oct The government ‘bans’ the yet to be legalised HINDRAF movement. The catalyst of the ban is
a visit to the prime minister at his Hari Raya open house to submit a memorandum and the
subsequent negative coverage in Malay media.
18 Oct Human rights activist Cheng Lee Whee is arrested under the ISA for posting a police report
she lodged alleging abuse of police power in evicting urban settlers in the Johor state.
18 Oct DAP lodges a police report against “Utusan Malaysia” and writer Chamil Wariya over a short
story about the assassination of a Chinese female politician whose description resembles
DAP MP Teresa Kok.
Positive developments and milestones
25 March Newly minted Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek drops the news pecking-order
rule in state broadcaster RTM of Prime Minister first, Deputy Prime Minister second, and
Information Minister third.
19 April Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) organ “Suara Keadilan” gets its permit.
30 April The first television transmission of the 30-minute live broadcast of question time in
1 May The Home Ministry lifts the ban on Karen Armstrong’s book, “A History of God”. However,
local artist Sharon Chin reveals that the Abdullah administration has banned 279 books since
coming to power in 2003, which translates to an average annual increase of 43 percent.
17 June The Home Ministry agrees in principle to approve the registration of Parti Sosialis Malaysia
(PSM). The party is officially registered on 9 Sept after a 10-year wait.
26 June PAS organ “Harakah” is allowed to resume publishing twice weekly from twice monthly since
1 July Social and political bloggers are invited to the Media Award ceremony given by the Defence
Ministry, then helmed by PM-in-waiting Najib Abdul Razak.
6 July “New Straits Times” reports that the Information Ministry will be giving 10 online news sites
media accreditation tags.
Continued from previous page
15 July Bernama TV, TV9 and Astro Awani broadcasts live the debate between PKR de-facto leader
Anwar Ibrahim and Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek on fuel price hikes.
20 Aug TV9 broadcasts live the debate between the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his
predecessor from Gerakan, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon, on the state’s land controversy.
15 Sept Minister in PM’s Department Zaid Ibrahim, tasked with law reform, resigns in protest of the ISA
arrests of Teresa Kok, Raja Petra Kamaruddin and Tan Hoon Cheng. The prime minister accepts
the resignation on 17 Sept.
16 Oct The Conference of Rulers issues a special press statement raising concern about the increasing
politicization of ethnic and religious issues by various groups.
18 Nov The government and the 22 highway concessionaires agree to declassify the toll concessionaire
24 Nov After 13 years, a High Court frees activist and politician Irene Fernandez from a jail sentence
conviction under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) over her memorandum on
torture in migrant camps.
16 Dec The Witness Protection Bill is tabled for the first time in Parliament.
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that is democratic, just and free, where all people will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek
and impart information.
CIJ was started in response to the political crisis of 1998 as Saksi.com, a website that attempted to
give broad analysis to current events. Today we have expanded our effort to advocacy of freedom of
expression (FOE) and information (FOI) and to encourage proffesional journalism practices and media
freedom in Malaysia.
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