Malaysia: Freedom of Expression in 2009- Annual Review by Centre for Independent Journalism
An Annual Review by
5 Malaysia’s Media Landscape
6 The Crisis in Perak
8 Police partiality and freedom of assembly
10 Racialisation of issues vs ethical reporting
12 Threats against online media and bloggers
14 Intolerance of diversity
18 Timeline of Events
• The Perak Crisis
• Right to Assembly
• ISA and the release of Hindraf leaders
• The “Allah” issue
• Restrictions against discourse of Islam
• Online censorship
• Raja Petra Kamarudin
• Restriction of campaigning at by-elections
ourteen dasy after the fireworks ushering 2010, a number of
places of worship were attacked, one with paints, most others with
firebombs. No one was injured, but this came after days of protest
by Muslim-Malay oressure groups against the court ruling allowing the
Catholics to use the word “Allah” in their publication.
Sectarian violence is rare in multi-ethnic Malaysia, but when the State
and non-State actors champion the cause of narrowly-defined rights and
privileges for a specific group over the rights of all citizens, this foments
fear and ignorance, and encourages intolerance in interactions between
and within ethnic communities.
To stoke the fire, there is also unprecendented partisanship on the issue
in a certain media- a worrying subversion of the media’s potential in
promoting peace and understanding in our multi-ethnic setting.
That is the message that Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is
conveying in our freedom of Expression in Malaysia 2009 Annual Review.
The Review presented a trajectory of how events were re-interpreted to
tension level, with challengers being removed or marginalized, once again,
through legal but unlawful means.
As we critically revisit the events documented in the Review, CIJ is
compelled to sound a warning bell on the danger of messages of
partisanship based on ethnicity and religion. The current climate makes
itall the more urgent for Malaysians to reclaim their right to freedom of
expression, and to demand their media to provide sufficient and equal
spaces for meaningful discussion, not foment cleavages and siege
As we commemorate the World Press Freedom Day in 2010, let us be clear
that the freedom to express is synonymous with the desire for peace and
on behalf of the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Malaysia’s Media Landscape:
Race, religion stoking policy
n 2009, perceived political crisis and increasing strain between various religious
and ethnic groups, were used as excuses for political leaders to leave demands for
political and democratic reform in abeyance.
Following the 2008 general election, the winning but badly shaken party as well as
other ethno-religious groups have used for political mileage the perception that the
special position of the ‘natives’ enshrined in the Constitution has been undermined.
An authoritarian brand of Islam has also been propagated by the state and individuals
more vocally since 2008. In 2009, these groups have increased their visibility by actively
censuring and invoking the threat of violence against remarks discussing affirmative
action, the monarchy and Islam. Their cause was aided by the Malay media owned by
the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) taking up their battle-cry, fuelled by
routine depictions of the opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (Pakatan) as a threat to the
Thus 2009 saw aggressive ethno-religious expression becoming the dominant theme in
the media, with intolerance and contempt colouring discourse. This contradicts the new
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s vision of “1Malaysia”, which includes as its aims a freer
media. Speaking to journalists and editors three days after becoming Prime Minister in
April 2008, Najib said he wanted the media to “hold the government and public officials
accountable” and to “report without fear and favour”, but the tough laws governing the
media have remained unchanged. Further, editors have spoken about the government’s
plan to revive Media Council legislation on top of the existing laws, and at the end of
last year, they were being told to implement additional and stricter publishing guidelines.
There have been a few welcome gestures for democratic rights. Some detainees being
held under the dreaded Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) were freed and the 2008
amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, were gazetted in
early 2009 to reverse a ban on students’ freedom of association and expression. But
these pale in comparison to the ongoing punitive actions against government opponents
and critics, and fall far short of acceptable standards.
The continual dwelling on and inciting of issues of ethnicity and religion directly affects
the prospect of freedom of expression. Ethnic and religious tensions are being used by
the state to rationalise the maintenance of the restrictive laws. More positively, these
laws are also being seen by some as the tools that facilitate tension, due to restricting
discourse and debate, and privileging voices that are incendiary.
While the prospect of meaningful reform for democratic spaces looks dismal, this comes
with a political cost to the government – of alienating progressive voices within Malaysia
and jeopardising the country’s image abroad. The Najib administration will have to
evaluate these risks, for both the short and the long terms, in at worst using, and at
least tolerating, this move towards greater authoritarianism in the name of religious
intolerance and racial ‘unity’.
A protest by Pakatan supporters in February to demand for the dissolution of the Perak state
assembly to pave way for fresh elections, after three lawmakers left the Pakatan government.
Crisis in Perak
he country was rocked at the beginning of later, authorities, invoking the Printing Presses
the year with a crisis in the state of Perak. and Publications Act 1984, confiscated thousands
The crisis revealed that the government of copies of two opposition newspapers – Suara
is bent on securing political interests and getting Keadilan, by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, or the
ahead of its political rival, the Pakatan opposition People’s Justice Party), and Harakah, published
alliance, regardless of the cost to good by the Islamic party PAS. We believe this is
governance and democracy. because of their coverage of the Perak crisis.
The following month, the two newspapers were
Perak was won by PR in the 2008 elections. ordered to shut down for three months by the
However, in February 2009, elected members of government. This was not only shortly after this
Pakatan defected to become ‘Barisan Nasional crisis, but immediately prior to the new Prime
(BN)-friendly independents’. In the resulting Minister being sworn in and the three crucial by-
political vacuum, the Sultan of Perak Azlan Shah elections in Kedah, Perak and Sarawak. The ban
acted by appointing lawmakers from the BN and was lifted on 3 April, on Najib’s first day in office.
sacking the existing state government before
a vote of no-confidence could be held in the However, the chairperson of the Democratic
legislature. This was both unpopular and legally Action Party (DAP) and MP for Bukit Gelugor
controversial. Karpal Singh, was charged under the Sedition
Act 1948 for questioning the legality of the
At the swearing-in of Perak’s new Menteri Besar Sultan’s actions. If found guilty, Karpal faces
in February, police fired tear gas on an estimated up to three years in prison or a fine of up to
3,000 to 5,000 protesters, arresting nine. Days RM5,000 (US$1,400) or both.
Then PKR information chief Tian Chua (right) Attempt by activists lead by PKR Supreme
and Suara Keadilan editor, Zunar (left) reveal that Council member, Badrul Hisham Shaharin
the party organ was confiscated by the authority. (left) to deliver a cake to the PM on the late
Pic courtesy of Malaysiakini Altantuya’s birthday, is met with police arrest,
on the same day as the arrest of PAS vice
president, Mat Sabu. Pic courtesy of Amin
Actions were also taken against members of a candlelight vigil for Wong in front of a police
the public in Perak who voiced dismay over the station in Kuala Lumpur. PAS vice president
crisis. Police arrested six online commentators Mat Sabu was arrested because he called for
for criticising the Sultan of Perak’s role in the a gathering at a mosque in Perak on the first
power struggle. They were charged under day that the assembly was to meet following the
Section 233(1) of the Communications and crisis. Police also raided the DAP office on two
Multimedia Act 1998, and Section 34 of the separate occasions, seizing electronic equipment,
Penal Code for “insulting” the Perak royalty publications and DVDs about the crisis.
in various blogs. The broadly worded Section
233(1) penalises the “improper use of facilities Nationally, the Perak crisis was framed by some
or network service, etc.” and provides for a jail of the mainstream media as a matter of treason
term of one year and a fine of up to RM50,000 against the monarchy and – stretching the limits
(approximately US$13,500). Two bloggers, of credulity – as being ethnically motivated,
Jed Yoong and Ahiruddin Attan, are also being with the possibility of leading to inter-ethnic
investigated by the police for content and clashes. Though the former Menteri Besar Nizar
comments on their blogs about the crisis. Jamaluddin is a Malay Muslim, he was accused
of running a puppet government for the Chinese-
In May, when the assembly in Perak resumed, majority DAP and of committing treason against
police again implemented a crackdown. In the the Sultan by refusing to resign or to accept the
span of three weeks, police arrested a total of legality of the Sultan’s actions. Some of those
146 people, including opposition lawmakers, who were charged for criticising the Sultan
writers, activists and lawyers, stirring public online were, following their arrests, depicted
concern that this would be a reenactment of the as remorseful, implying that the monarchy is
1987 Operasi Lallang crackdown. However, most sacrosanct. Karpal, as well as being investigated,
of those arrested were either released the same was also targeted at public rallies staged by
day or remanded for up to four days. UMNO, and accused of being sacrilegious.
Writer, academic and chairperson of the Writers’ The mainstream media also spun the legally
Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) Wong dubious take-over as being “tit-for-tat” against
Chin Huat was remanded for four days simply Pakatan for its failed attempt to take over the
because he tried to rally people to wear black Federal government through the defection of
on the assembly day, to mourn the death of BN parliamentarians in 2008. In such spins,
democracy in Perak. Political columnist for the public has been told by the controlled press
leading online news service Malaysiakini Josh that the Perak crisis is a party-political one, not
Hong and the editor of Suara Keadilan Law Teck a crisis of democracy in which they are the true
Hao were among those arrested while attending stakeholders.
Police partiality and freedom of assembly
he Perak crisis is just one of several rally, the highlight of which was the display of
issues that drove Malaysians to the a recently-decapitated cow’s head, which was
streets. Some of the others were later kicked by some protesters. There were no
ethnocentric in their cause, for which the police arrests at the time, and the Home Minister later
took delayed (if any) action against organisers came out with a statement supporting the rally,
and participants, while for assemblies that were causing public outcry. On 9 September, the
more ethnically diverse but anti-BN in tone, government charged six of the protesters under
protesters were met with immediate repression. the Sedition Act 1948.
As mentioned in the previous section, the There was also public outcry as a result of
statement by Karpal prompted UMNO to the government’s harassment of news site
organise a public rally against him. Not only Malaysiakini, when videos of the ‘cow-head’
were there no arrests among the 200-strong protest and the Minister’s press conference,
crowd, police also belatedly declared that it had including his defense of that protest, were posted
no permit. While applauding the lack of police online. The Malaysian Communications and
action in this instance, CIJ calls for the need to Multimedia Commission (MCMC) deemed these
ensure that similar freedoms are enjoyed by all, videos offensive and asked Malaysiakini to take
not just by those connected to the government, them down, invoking the Communications and
or those opposing Pakatan. Multimedia Act 1998. Malaysiakini refused, and
the MCMC sent officers to question its Editor-in-
In contrast, during the anti-ISA rally in early Chief Steven Gan and CEO Premesh Chandran.
August 2009 attended by 5,000 or 15,000
(depending on which source), police used Police also arrested 14 Burmese nationals for
tear gas, water cannons and roadblocks, and taking part in a gathering organised by the Selangor
arrested close to 600 people. The anti-ISA rally state government to celebrate the 64th birthday of
almost had to face a pro-ISA rally organised Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi in June.
on the same day by various NGOs under the
umbrella group Pewaris. At the eleventh hour On the anniversary day of the formation of
– apparently after realising there would be a Malaysia, 15 indigenous people from tribes of
meagre turnout – Pewaris cancelled the rally Penan, Kayan, Kenyah and Iban were arrrested
and decided instead to have a representative in Kuching for submitting a memorandum of
submit a memorandum to the palace. While protest against the construction of two dams
the slew of arrests and clampdown operations that will be affecting the people in the area of
against the anti-ISA protesters were happening, Baram and Murum.
the Pewaris representative was allowed by
police to submit his memorandum. The inconsistency of enforcement shows that
freedom of assembly remains a barely tolerated
One of the year’s most notorious incidents, the right. As the police force is not obliged to be
‘cow-head protest’ exposes even more glaringly accountable to the public and is answerable only
police inconsistency in controlling the right to to the Home Ministry, the public have not been
assembly. The protest was sparked when a given any explanation for the inconsistency.
Hindu temple was to be relocated to a Muslim As a constitutionally enshrined right, freedom
populated area in Shah Alam, Selangor, a move of assembly should never be subject to the
linked to the Pakatan state government. On 28 interests of the government or other groups, but
August, some Muslim residents held a protest upheld for all equally and impartially.
The act of stamping on a cowhead by
protesters who are against the relocation
of a Hindu temple to a mostly Malay
populated area, ignites public outcry and
give the protest the name “cowhead”.
Picture courtesy of The Malaysian Insider.
Police cracks down on the
anti-ISA mass rally using water
cannon (left) and tear gas
(below). Picture courtesy of
Racialisation of issues vs
he role of the media in these events was, wanting. The coalition banned Utusan Malaysia
sadly, not that of a neutral bystander. and the BN-owned New Straits Times from
Some issues were deliberately given their events. Their reaction raised the question
an ethnic spin by some media. Since 2008, of how press freedom can be practised when
UMNO-owned daily Utusan Malaysia has been ethical standards are not being upheld. Pakatan
championing “Malay unity”, a thinly disguised state governments in Selangor and Penang
call for ‘Malays’ to be politically united under have set up their online and print organs, but
UMNO. A political unity among Malays is maintained a ban on these two dailies and their
argued to be fundamental to the ethnic group’s reporters.
collective survival vis-a-vis other communities,
as well as to the country’s security. The idea The racialisation of reporting is not limited
follows from the concept of “Ketuanan Melayu” to demonising the Federal-level opposition.
commonly interpreted as perpetual privileges The underlying concept of “Ketuanan Melayu”
for the ‘native’ majority ethnic group. With entails the viewing of the ‘non-native’ with
UMNO’s electoral setback and Pakatan’s gain, suspicion, thus the newspapers dwell on the
Pakatan partners PKR and PAS have been immigrant origin of the Other. This suspicion
often portrayed – through statements from of other ethnic groups was also the underlying
UMNO officials as well as the Malay-based issue inadvertently highlighted by the magazine
groups mentioned earlier – as a threat to that Al-Islam, which is published by the Utusan
unity, while DAP was represented as a threat group. The magazine sent a reporter to go
from the supposedly economically powerful undercover at a church mass in order to
‘ethnic Chinese’. “expose” the alleged conversion of Muslims.
The reporter found out that the allegation was
The anti-ISA mass rally in August, for example, not true, but his method of investigation – taking
was painted by Utusan as a betrayal by part in the holy communion under disguise as
those Malays who were organising the rally a Christian, then spitting out the holy wafer
(alongside others), as well as the minority’s for photo-taking – raised protests, particularly
threat to the dominant race. by Catholics, on the reporter’ lack of religious
Earlier in July, calls to investigate the
suspicious death of opposition political aide Critics of the magazine have pointed out that
Teoh Beng Hock while being held overnight for the government would have unleashed the
questioning at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption full power of the law if it had been an act that
Commission’s (MACC) offices were given an violated the sanctity of Islam. CIJ, however,
ethnic twist – about the ‘Chinese’ attempting recognises and emphasises that the only way
to undermine the ‘Malay’ staff at the MACC. to encourage tolerance is by allowing all media
It was, apparently, irrelevant that calls for an to operate on an equal and free footing, and to
impartial investigation were being made from a revoke all repressive media laws. The Al-Islam
broad cross-section of Malaysian society. case merely demonstrates the arbitrary nature
The response of Pakatan, however, was also of the laws and their enforcement.
From left to right: Lawyer
Annou Xavier, Sundhagaran
Stanley and Joachim Francis
Xavier, from the Diocesan
Migrant Ministry at the Dang
Wangi Police station to follow
up on a report they lodged
against Al-Islam magazine
(right) for publishing an article
by a reporter deemed to have
desecrated the Church. Pic
courtesy of Sundhagaran
Threats against online
media and bloggers
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) campaign logo on cyber censorship
s early in the year as March, during the In November, blogger Bernard Khoo was
annual UMNO general assembly, online questioned by the police over the posting of
media Malaysiakini, The Malaysian a modified image of the police emblem. No
Insider, Siasah, Merdeka Review and The Nut charge was filed against him.
Graph were barred from the event, supposedly
over questions of ethics. Although it may appear that the online content
is not being subject to regulations as rigorous
Less than a month later, a photographer and a and as effective as their print counterpart,
reporter from MerdekaReview were barred from two cases demonstrate that the Malaysian
covering the Prime Minister’s announcement government does not lack any legal means to
of his Cabinet lineup. The Chinese portal had prosecute online writers. The first, mentioned
been publishing commentaries criticising pro- earlier, is the prosecution against commentators
Najib articles from other publications. of the Perak crisis under Section 233(1) of the
Communications and Multimedia Act 1998,
In August, the government plan to further which is found to be similar to the Sedition Act
control the Internet through the use of filters in terms of scope and wording.
was exposed by the online and foreign media,
triggering a public outcry. According to news site The second case is a criminal defamation
The Malaysian Insider, a call for tender had been suit against prominent blogger Raja Petra
issued to companies to submit proposals to assist Kamarudin. He was charged in 2008 for an
the communications regulator MCMC evaluate article and a statutory declaration containing
the feasibility of an Internet filter. The Ministry allegations against the Prime Minister’s wife
of Information, Communications and Culture Rosmah Mansor and was scheduled to go on
expected the study to be completed by December trial in 2009. However, Raja Petra has gone
and a decision to be made by the National into hiding, claiming that he was tipped off that
Security Council headed by the Prime Minister. he would be arrested under the ISA for the
Responding to public opposition, Information
Minister Rais Yatim confirmed the reports but Critics have questioned why criminal
defended the filter as necessary for curbing defamation was used, instead of civil
pornography. Nevertheless, just two days defamation, as Rosmah is not a government
later, the Prime Minister scrapped the plan, official.
reiterating the promise of no Internet censorship
as outlined in the Communications and Two arrest warrants have been issued against
Multimedia Act 1998. Raja Petra after he failed to turn up in court
on 23 April and 23 May. As the police were
Rais has signaled that he agreed with unable to serve the warrant of arrest on him,
conservatives wanting greater control of the the Sessions Court granted him a discharge not
Internet. Having the MCMC under his ministry’s amounting to an acquittal on 11 November – for
purview, he made it known that the Ministry was his sedition case- and another discharge two
actively monitoring and investigating websites. days later- for his criminal defamation case, but
The Prime Minister himself, in an answer to the police effort to track him down is ongoing.
parliamentarians’ questions in June, said that
civil servants were barred from visiting 39 While he continues to run his website in hiding,
sites deemed seditious, offensive or obscene, the government should make good its promise
adding that several of the sites were under of no Internet censorship by dropping the case
investigation. against him.
Muslims in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur protest against the High Court ruling on 31 December
allowing Christians to use the word “Allah” for denoting God. Pic courtesy of The Malaysian Insider.
Intolerance of diversity
riticism of the Malaysian government to the case. The ban extended to the media
has long been ill-tolerated. The as well. Malaysiakini reported that television
Malaysian public might occasionally stations were ordered not to name one of the
find in the mainstream media criticism of the accused – the Prime Minister’s aide Abdul
civil service, but not direct criticism of the Prime Razak – and to ignore his background when
Minister of the day. This remains unchanged reporting the judgment of the murder trial in
under the current administration. Having April. (Abdul Razak was eventually acquitted.)
assumed office at a time of global economic
trouble, weakened support for UMNO and, Suara Keadilan, the PKR organ, continued
more personally, while being linked to the trial to be confiscated or its distributors harassed
of his aide Abdul Razak Baginda for murder, although Najib had lifted the ban on the paper
Najib forwent the spell of openness that had when he became Prime Minister.
marked the beginning of his two immediate
predecessors’ ascent to power. In July, a TV host was demoted to field reporter
status after she asked her guests to rate Najib’s
Shortly after Najib assumed office, three performance on the occasion of his 100th day
by-elections – seen as tests of his legitimacy – in office.
were held simultaneously in the states of Perak,
Kedah and Sarawak. There was also a test for On 25 August, officials from the Publication
the new Prime Minister’s openness, in which he Control Unit of the Home Ministry seized copies
did not fare well. First, the police issued a ban of the inaugural issues of cartoon magazine
against any mention of the case of a murdered Gedung Kartun from the publisher’s office in
Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu in Kuala Lumpur. According to its editor-in-chief
campaign speeches, as Pakatan and by various Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar,
bloggers had connected the Prime Minister more than 400 copies were seized. Authorities
claimed Zunar had not secured a permit for statement by SIS and other women’s groups,
the publication, as mandated by the Printing and SIS’s decision for legal intervention, the
Presses and Publications Act 1984. Observers UMNO women’s wing in Johor and 14 other
said, however, that Zunar’s political cartoons Muslim groups called on the government to
criticising the Prime Minister and his policies cancel the NGO’s registration. The Muslim
were the real reason for the confiscation. groups also lodged police reports against SIS.
The Home Ministry confiscated Malaysian Meanwhile, PAS Youth asked for a public
Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent boycott of SIS for “being insolent”. Earlier in
Times on 24 December, as the books were June, during the PAS general assembly or
brought in to the country through a Port Klang muktamar, a resolution was passed calling for
checkpoint, putting a gag on the circulation of SIS to be banned. However, the party soon
the book. Authored by Asian Wall Street Journal claimed that the resolution was a mistake,
former editor Barry Wain, the book contends, after running into disagreement with other
among other things, that the fourth Prime Pakatan partners and drawing criticism from the
Minister was responsible for a loss of RM100 public, especially given that the resolution was
billion (US$28.6 billion) during his term in office. sponsored by the branch headed by a politician
Besides reining in critical views about previously known for his comparatively
Malaysia’s Prime Ministers, both Federal and progressive stand.
state institutions have been actively controlling
the discourses on Islam. The preaching of Islam A crucial incident highlighting the impact of
other than in the country’s officially sanctioned such intolerance to diverse religious discourse
Sunnah Wal Jamaah ideology is disallowed. has been the so-called “Allah” controversy.
The government has in March rescinded its
An example of the extent of this control is that February permission for the Catholic weekly,
the state Islamic council prepares the Friday The Herald to use of four Arabic words –
sermons to be preached by the mosque imam “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “Baitullah” and “solat”– by
throughout each state. The power of these non-Muslims. The Catholic Church revealed
institutions was brought to the fore by the that the Home Ministry seized thousands of
arrest of Muslim scholar Mohd Asri Zainul copies of translated Bibles which use the word
Abidin in November. A former mufti in Perlis “Allah” from the customs checkpoints in March
and known for his outspokenness, Asri was and September, while a petition for judicial
arrested by the Selangor religious authority review filed by the churches was ongoing.
for preaching unauthorised sermons and was
accused of spreading “Wahabbism”. Despite In March, religious authorities in Selangor
the arrest drawing criticism from the opposition threatened the Bar Council with legal action for
parliamentarians and the Prime Minister, holding an online poll on the issue of the usage
charges were filed against Asri. In the same of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. The court
month, the same religious authority also barred eventually ruled in favor of the Catholic Church
PAS parliamentarian Khalid Abdul Samad from in December, but, following an appeal from the
preaching. The reason given was that Khalid’s government as well as protests from several
sermons were too “political”. Muslim groups, a stay order was issued, meaning
that the ban was to remain in place. The Muslim
Women’s group Sisters in Islam (SIS) also raised groups proceeded to organise demonstrations
the ire of both the ruling and opposition parties in various parts of the capital city airing their
for opposing the caning of Muslim women. In demand for “Allah” to be made exclusive for
July, the Shari’ah court in Pahang sentenced Muslims. Although the police deemed the
a woman, Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, to demonstrations illegal, no arrests were made.
the maximum sentence of six strokes of the As the world entered into 2010, several Christian
cane and a fine of RM5,000 (US$1,430) for churches were attacked with firebombs, believed
drinking beer in public in 2007. Following a joint to be connected to this issue.
iven the government’s political control over the media, it is
hard not to speculate on their role in the prominence of ethno-
religious discourse, and in the resulting tension. Malaysians
have limited and unequal access to alternative views, discourse and
information, which are available largely online and predominantly in
English. Such limited circulation of alternative views cannot effectively
challenge the ethno-religious dogma being circulated through the
For many years, the policy of controlling information and expression
has been justified explicitly on security reason, or implicitly as
necessary to the social engineering project harboured upon the hope of
nation-building: unity and prosperity. It is time for Malaysians to realise
that both reasons have expired, if they were ever legitimate. Rather, the
inconsistent employment of the repressive laws is having a dangerous
impact on the unity, economy and security of Malaysians.
Despite progressive rhetoric, the government has been taking half-
measures to improve transparency and thus boost the country’s
competitiveness. This is not good enough, and the tensions and
violence that we have seen erupting are a direct result of repressive
legislations. Through 2009 and into 2010, CIJ continues to contend
that the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, Sedition Act 1948,
Official Secrets Act 1972 and Section 233(1) of the Communications
and Multimedia Act 1998 form a major impediment to transparency and
good governance. These laws must be repealed for any true reform to
Timeline of Events
Chronology of the crisis in Perak
Arrest of Demonstrators and Assemblymen 19 May DAP parliamentarians Teo Nie Ching
6 Feb Tear gas was fired at 3000-5000 and Jenice Lee were among 11 people arrested
demonstrators who had gathered to protest in a candlelight vigil calling for fresh elections
the swearing-in of the new Chief Minister from in Perak.
Barisan Nasional. Nine were arrested.
21 May The third protest to by the Pakatan saw
4 May Police warned supporters of BN 17 people including Jenice Lee being detained
and Pakatan not to gather near the State by police in Ampang. Jenice Lee was remanded
Secretariat building when the State Assembly for two days.
meeting convened. Civil society activist Wong
Chin Huat, also a spokesman for Bersih, was 23 May Police raided the DAP headquarters in
detained by police for alleged sedition. His Selangor and confiscated computers and flyers
arrest was linked to a press conference he had about the Perak political crisis.
called a day before, where he urged the public
to wear black the following day to protest the 26 May Police arrested 21 people including
change in administration in Perak. eight elected representatives for taking part in
a hunger strike calling for fresh election, being
6 May Wong’s remand order was extended two held at the DAP headquarters. Among those
more days. PAS vice-president Mohamad Sabu arrested were assemblymen Chang Lih Kang
was detained by police. Police also arrested (Teja), Chan Ming Kai (Simpang Pulai), Thomas
three others who attempted to present a cake Su (Pasir Pinji), Lim Pek Har (Menglembu),
and letter to the Prime Minister on the birthday of Leong Mee Meng (Jalong), Keshvinder Singh
the murdered Mongolian, Altantuya Shaaribuu. (Malim Nawar), former Speaker V. Sivakumar,
Ipoh Barat Member of Parliament M.
7 May The day of the State Assembly sitting Kulasegaran and six supporters.
According to media, police arrested sixty-five Karpal Singh tried for sedition
at the Perak state assembly, including Pakatan 11 Feb DAP Chairman, Karpal Singh gave a
leaders, parliamentarians and activists. Any statement to the police regarding police reports
person wearing black was immediately detained. made against him because he said in a press
Later that night, police arrested thirty two conference that the Sultan can be sued for his
protesters who gathered for candlelight vigils in decision to remove Nizar Jamaluddin as Perak
protest of Wong’s arrest and the events in Perak. Chief Minister. According to the police, 89 police
The protesters were arrested in Kuala Lumpur, reports were lodged against Karpal, including
Penang and Sarawak. Among those arrested from UMNO members. On the same day,
were five lawyers who were there as counsel Selangor Umno Youth chief Abdul Shukur Idrus
for those who had been detained earlier. Home led 600 people from Umno Youth, Puteri Umno
Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein and other NGOs in a protest march from the
praised the police crackdown. state Umno building to the Shah Alam police
station to lodge a report Singh.
9 May Police on Saturday stopped a DAP dinner
at a school and seized audiovisual equipment 16 March Singh is charged with sedition.
that was being used to play a video about the
Perak assembly sitting. The technician handling 29 April The High Court rejected Singh’s
the equipment was also detained. application to get himself discharged from
his sedition case. The Court held that his 13 May Malaysiakini reported that media
speech in the press conference can be taken conglomerate, Media Prima, had banned the
in totality as the basis for the charge without airing of footage showing the Pakatan assembly
having to specify the words or parts that are Speaker Sivakumar being dragged out of the
seditious. sitting on 7 May. Media Prima owns four free-to-
air television stations and is affiliated with UMNO.
12 August An Utusan journalist, the first
prosecution witness, told the High Court that Police action and intimidation against
he wrote an article for his newspaper based on bloggers
a partial understanding of the press statement 23 Feb Police investigated blogger, Jed Yoong
and mistaken the meaning of the words “ultra Yui Foong for posting a translation of another
vires” in the statement to mean “to insult”. blogger’s posting criticizing the Perak Sultan.
9 December Another prosecution witness, an 24 Feb Police questioned blogger Ahiruddin
RTM deputy news director, said the television Attan (Rocky Bru) over comments left on his
station had labeled Singh as having committed blog about the role of the monarchy by known
treason in the station’s reporting of the press and annoymous commentators.
13 March In an unprecedented move, six
14 December A prosecution witness from people were charged for having “insulted”
a student NGO, Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Sultan of Perak through a website. A lab
Semenanjung Perak, said he lodged a police assistant was fined RM 10000 in default 5
report because he was not ‘satisfied’ that Singh months’ jail for the same offence.
had questioned the legality of the BN state
government in Perak. 16 March A husband and wife were charged in
the Sessions Court for posting comments on
Media control the Sultan of Perak’s website, disagreeing with
12 Feb 10000 to 20000 copies of political party the Royals’ role in the Perak crisis.
organs Suara Keadilan and Harakah were
reported confiscated in various parts of the 15 April A housewife was charged in a
country since January. Sessions Court with forwarding comments
against the Sultan of Perak. Her husband was
23 March The Home Ministry suspended among the six charged on 13 March. Both
Harakah and Suara Keadilan for three months. of them later claimed to have received death
The ban was lifted by Najib Razak on April 3 threats via email.
when he sworn in as Prime Minister but PKR
complained that government officials continued 22 April Gagasan Melayu Perak (GMP) lodged
to harass distributors and confiscate the paper. a police report against Malaysiakini for an article
allegedly insulting Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak
3 May BN Perak State Secretary Dr Abdul and the Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah.
Rahman Hashim barred a number of media
organizations, including online news sites, 21 October A total of 11 people were
from covering the state assembly sitting, due charged under Section 211 and 233 of the
to begin on 7 May. However, the Pakatan Communication and Multimedia Act which
assembly Speaker V. Sivakumar lifted the ban. involve a fine of up to RM 24,500, for insulting
BN appointed Chief Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir the Sultan of Perak, revealed the Minister of
denied that he had issued the ban. Information.
Timeline of Events
Right to Assembly Teoh Beng Hock. Pakatan parliamentarians S.
Manikavasagam and Xavier Jayakumar were
7 March Riot police fired teargas at thousands among those arrested, while MP Gan Pei Nei
of people who tried to march towards the Istana and a state assembly aide, Loo Chuan Boon
Negara (National Palace), to protest against the were injured during a scuffle with the riot police.
policy of using English to teach Science and
Mathematics. 124 were arrested. 17 July Three were arrested for submitting a
memorandum of against the killings of Muslims
17 April Seven people, including four lawyers, in southern Thailand to the Thai embassy.
were acquitted and discharged for taking part
in a walk to mark World Human Rights Day in 23 July Police detained 10 people, including
2007. MIC Youth coordinator T. Mohan, when about
50 people were to march towards Komtar
19 May Batu MP Tian Chua was ordered by a to hand over a memorandum to the Chief
magistrate’s court to enter his defence against Minister’s office on an eviction issue.
a charge of injuring a policeman in December
2007, during a Bersih rally. 28 July Police warned that they will take stern
action against any party that participates in
24 May 1000 supporters of the Sri Lankan any assembly in the capital on 1 August. The
separatist group Tamil Tigers assembled warning came as two rallies had been planned
at Sri Subramaniar temple in Jalan Besar, for that day, by groups with opposing stands on
Batu Caves, Gombak. Despite not having the ISA.
a police permit, it was attended by Deputy
Minister M. Saravanan and two opposition 1 August Police arrested 589 people, fired tear
parliamentarians. No arrests were made. gas and water cannons at numerous locations
in the city after thousands of people took to
15 June Police fired tear gas to disperse 700 the streets calling for a repeal of the ISA.
Iranians, mostly university students, outside Thousands were blocked from reaching the
Wisma UN in Jalan Semantan. They were venue, as the capital city was practically sealed
protesting the results of the Iranian presidential off. Media reported that the crowd consisted of
elections. between 5,000 and 15,000 protesters.
18 June Five people who were students at 2 August Najib Razak said the government will
the time of their arrest were fined RM 3,900 or allow future mass rally in stadiums and urged
three months’ jail by the magistrate’s court for the people not to take to the streets.
attending an anti-ISA assembly in 2001 . They
had been suspended from their undergraduate 2 August Police released 560 out of 589
studies when charged in 2001. people detained the previous day. Those
released included a 13 year old.
19 June Police arrested 14 Burmese nationals
for taking part in a gathering organized by the 3 August 29 people claimed trial to the charge
Selangor state government to celebrate the of illegal assembly, having been arrested during
64th birthday of activist Aung San Suu Kyi. protests calling for the abolition of the ISA.
17 July Seven were arrested at the former 13 August The Public Service director-general
MACC Selangor headquarters at Plaza Ismail Adam issued a circular warning that civil
Masalam for gathering to demand an servants found participating in illegal gatherings
investigation into the death of political aide, or “causes” would be demoted or sacked.
19 August The Home Minister said the still has a sedition case pending, as he failed to
government is to amend the Police Act to allow get the Sessions Court to strike out the charge.
public assemblies in certain locations, without Seven foreigners detained under the ISA were
the need for a police permit. also released.
16 September 15 indigenous people, including 19 May Former ISA detainee P. Uthayakumar
two indigenous rights leaders were arrested failed to appear before an advisory panel
for submitting a memorandum to the Sarawak meeting at the Kamunting detention camp near
chief minister, Taib Mahmud, protesting the here, for which the Home Minister Datuk Seri
construction of the Murum Dam. They were Hishammuddin Hussein said no action will be
released on the same day. taken against him.
October 11 All those charged with illegal 27 May Alleged JI militant Mas Selamat Kastari
assembly at the Kesas Highway in 2000, where is detained under the ISA.
police action was condemned by the Malaysian
human rights commission as being excessive, 16 June The Home Minister said the ISA
were acquitted. No police investigation has may be used to crush the ‘Federal Special
taken place into the incident. Forces of Malaysia (FSFM)’, believed to be
a fraud organization modeled as a civilian
ISA and the release of Hindraf
leaders 25 June Home Minister Hishammuddin
Hussein said in reply to question in parliament
5 April 13 people including Hindraf leaders that there were only 12 ISA detainees left in
V. Ganabatirau, and R. Kengadharan were Kamunting, comprising 6 Malaysians and 6
released from the ISA detention centre in foreigners. He said they were under detention
Kamunting, Taiping. Ganabatirau later claimed for either involvement in militant activities or for
he was prevented from speaking to the media forging documents.
for a year as one of the conditions for his
release. 25 June Hussein said the Government is
looking into a proposal to reduce the detention
17 April Inspector General Police, Musa period under ISA from 60 to 28 days.
Hassan confirmed the arrest of three men in
Johor under the ISA. 19 October The government maintained its
stance that it will not scrap the ISA.
20 April Malaysiakini reported that the police
has been pressuring the family members of ISA 22 October The Home Ministry announced
detainee Agus Salim to stop them from seeking that the review of ISA will be on five areas : the
help or getting their plight heard. Agus was treatment accorded to ISA detainees: their living
detained on 5 March allegedly due to suspected conditions, meals and other basic needs; the
links with Islamic fundamentalists. duration of their sentence, that is the initial 60
days’ detention for investigations and the two-
8 May The three remaining Hindraf leaders, year detention order; the powers of the Home
P. Uthayakumar, M.Manoharan and Vasantha Minister in invoking the act and the abuse of
Kumar were released from the Kamunting such powers he holds; the perception that the
detention centre, after 514 days of incarceration ISA is or may be exploited for political reasons;
under the ISA. On 16 April, the trio had failed and the provisions in the ISA which allow for
in their habeas corpus appeal. P. Uthayakumar detention without trial.
Timeline of Events
The “Allah” issue 13 March The song Allah Peduli by Indonesian
artist Agnes Monica has been banned in
26 Feb Home Ministry lifted a ban on the word Selangor, as Allah in the lyrics pertains to Jesus
“Allah”, which had been restricted to Muslim Christ.
publications, provided non-Muslim religious
publications using the word state prominently 5 September Catholic weekyly The Herald
that the publication is for non-Muslims only. received a letter from the Home Ministry stating
Catholic weekly Herald had applied for a judicial that it has not approved the publishing permit
review of the ban in 2008. The application for 2010, although in August it had approved
was deemed academic when the Herald’s it to print in four out of the five languages they
publication permit expired in Dec 2008, so the had requested, excluding the KadazanDusun
Herald reapplied for a judicial review on 16 Feb. language.
2 March The government rescinded its earlier 4 November The Council of Churches
decision to lift the ban on the use of the word revealed that 15,000 Bahasa Malaysia Bibles
“Allah”. were prevented from being distributed by the
Home Ministry in March and in September for
5 March Religious adviser in the PM containing ‘banned’terminology. The Christian
department, Abdullah Md Zin said 10 states Federation of Malaysia (CFM) called for the
with Sultans have gazetted the ban on the immediate release of the Bibles.
usage of “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “Solat” and
“Baitullah” by non Muslims, while a fatwa 14 November The Home Minister
on a similar ban had been issued to the held a meeting with representatives of
remaining four states, none of which have the Catholic Church explaining that the
a Sultan. August permit was valid and that they
are to ignore the September letter.
12 March The Selangor Islamic Religious
Council (Mais) threatened legal action 31 December The High Court allowed
against the Bar Council over its poll on the The Herald to use the word “Allah” for
use of the word Allah by non-Muslims. Christians.
Restrictions against discourse caning of women under the Islamic law. The
of Islam NGOs demanded SIS “apologize for having
insulted Islamic law and the Shar’iah court”.
Call to ban SIS
6 October UMNO Wanita Johor called on the
7 June PAS passed a resolution urging that government to cancel the registration of SIS,
women rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality
be banned and called for the National Fatwa (JAG) and the Womens’ Aid Organization
Council to investigate SIS. On the same day, (WAO), in the light of the group’s statement
PAS’s partner in Pakatan, PKR issued a against the whipping of a former model.
statement disagreeing with the resolution.
The Former Perlis mufti
9 June MP Teresa Kok of DAP and the Minister
for Women, Family and the Community 2 November While conducting a religious class
Shahrizat Abdul Jalil criticized PAS’s resolution. in a private home, former Perlis mufti Dr Mohd
Asri Zainul Abidin was arrested by the Selangor
10 June Former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad Religious Affairs Department (JAIS), on the
criticized PAS for its call to ban SIS. grounds of preaching without certification. His
arrest was questioned by parliamentarians,
11 June PKR MP Zulkifli Noordin wants the including the Prime Minister, but JAIS defended
Companies Commission (CCM) to stop SIS its actions, and revealed that it had been
from using the word “Islam” in its title. The CCM monitoring Asri’s preaching for three years.
said it is unable to do so.
18 November Abidin was charged for
14 June PAS said its resolution calling for the preaching without certification at the Shari’ah
banning of women’s group, SIS, was a mistake Court under Section 119 of the Islamic
and that the ‘correct’ resolution called for Administration of Selangor. If convicted,
engagement with the women’s group. Asri can be fined up to RM3,000 and faces
imprisonment of up to two years.
16 June Wanita Gerakan urged PAS to
withdraw its resolution. 25 November Opposition MP Khalid Abdul
Samad’s authorization to preach Islam was
2 October Fourteen Muslim NGOs lodged revoked by JAIS, on the ground that his
police reports against SIS for questioning the preaching is too political.
Timeline of Events
Online censorship temple. The second video was the Home
Minister’s press conference in defence of the
16 June The Prime Minister told Parliament protesters.
that civil servants are banned from visiting
39 websites and blogs containing “offensive, 4 November Blogger Bernard Khoo Teng
obscene or seditious elements”. Swee, who writes zorro-unmasked.blogspot.
com, was questioned by police over a posting
7 July The Information Minister, Rais Yatim in 2008 of a photo which carried the emblem
revealed that special units have been set of the Royal Malaysian Police, on which was
up under both the Home and Information superimposed the image of a dog.
Ministries to monitor blogs, adding that the
regulation of bloggers comes under both the 19 November The Information Minister told the
Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Parliament that the MCMC had charged eight
Communications and Multimedia Act. website operators under the CMA. Seven of
the websites were said to have insulted Islam.
8 July The Deputy Minister of Science and A total of seventy-one investigations had been
Technology revealed that the Malaysian carried out by the MCMC.
Communications and Multimedia Commission
(MCMC) had shut down 33 websites said to Raja Petra Kamarudin
contain pornographic materials, and that a
further 15 similar websites had been asked to 23 April The Sessions Court issued a warrant
shut down. of arrest against Petra Kamarudin and a
show-cause notice to his wife, Marina, because
6 August AFP, quoting an anonymous source, the former failed to show up at his criminal
reported that the government was considering defamation trial. The blogger claimed on his
imposing an internet filter to block “undesirable” website, Malaysia Today, that he is in self-exile
websites, on the grounds of maintaining racial and fears another arrest under the ISA.
harmony. Local portal The Malaysian Insider
reported that the government had called for 26 June Second arrest warrant out for
proposals from companies for internet content Kamarudin after he failed to attend his criminal
filtering systems. defamation trial at the Sessions Court.
7 August Yatim confirmed that an internet 11 November Kamaruddin’s Sedition case was
filtering system would be set up to filter suspended because the police were unable to
pornography. Civil societies, opposition track him down.
members and bloggers cried foul.
13 November Kamarudin’s criminal defamation
8 August, The Prime Minister refuted the case was suspended because the police was
Information Minister’s statements about the unable to track him down.
internet filter and said that the Government will
not impose any censorship on the internet. On the media
4 September The MCMC ordered Malaysiakini 16 Jan Two journalists from Merdeka Review
to remove from its website two videos. The lodged a police report for have been given cash
first video depicted protesters stomping a cow at the Barisan Nasional common media centre
head, a symbol of the Hindu religion, while during the Kuala Terengganu by-election.
agitating against the relocation of a Hindu Opposition parliamentarian Teo Nie Ching’s
question to the Prime Minister on the issue 24 June Home Minister Hishammuddin
during the next day’s Parliament sitting was Hussein said the government has no plan to
rejected. The anti-corruption commission also abolish the Printing Presses and Publications
decided to drop the case on 20 Jan despite Act or the ISA.
informing the reporters that it would launch an
investigation. 13 July Police have started investigating
a police report on an article published by
24 March Six online media organizations - magazine Al-Islam. The article, written by
Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider, a Muslim reporter who went undercover to
Siasah, Merdeka Review and The Nut Graph - participate in a church mass was deemed
were barred from covering proceedings of the offensive to Christians.
UMNO general assembly. The reason given by
the UMNO sec-general Tengku Adnan was that 15 July A journalist with private television
the media were not “ethical”. channel ntv7, Florence Looi, was issued a memo
and her talkshow program shelved after she
31 March In his blog, the Penang Chief Minister asked her panel guests to rate the performance
Lim Guan Eng said the state has banned the of the Prime Minister in his first 100 days.
New Straits Times from the state’s functions
until the paper provides the administration 25 August The newspaper vendors association
with the right of reply. Lim said that the paper and MIC members lodged a police report against
has carried inaccurate reports about his the Malay Mail for publishing an article discussing
administration. the party’s internal politics, pictures of MIC
leaders labelled as belonging to lower castes. The
18 April Malaysiakini reported that Media Prima Malay Mail responded with a clarification and took
Berhad – the owner of the four TV stations TV3, down the pictures from its web edition.
ntv7, 8TV and tv9 - had ordered the stations not
to name political analyst and defendant Abdul 25 November A reporter from Utusan Malaysia,
Razak Baginda when reporting the judgement Yazid Aliaz was asked to leave a press
of the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder case. conference organized by Pakatan Rakyat in
8 May MCA President Ong Tee Keat lodged
a police report against Chinese language 14 December Vice Chairman of DAP M.
magazine Hao Wai (Special Weekly) for Kulasegaran made a police report against
defamation under the Printing Presses and “Awang Selamat” for suggesting that the DAP
Publication Act and criminal defamation. The would abolish the monarchy if it came to power.
magazine editor and two staff were questioned
by police. 17 December Malaysiakini reported that a
meeting was called by the Home Ministry with
3 June The MIC urged the Government to take newspaper editors to discuss the adoption
action against columnist “Awang Selamat” for of a new set of publishing guidelines. The
referring to the Chinese and Indians Malaysians elaborate but ambiguously worded guidelines
in Malaysia as immigrants. were framed as “self-regulation”. Among others,
they were not to give detailed descriptions
5 June A reporter from Utusan Malaysia, of criminal offences such as rape, murder,
Hasnurul Mohamd was barred from covering robbery; nothing about cohabitation, adultery,
the swearing in of the Seberang Perai Municipal homosexuality, counter-culture; and no graphics
Council President in Penang. of human genitalia and G-strings.
Timeline of Events
Restriction of campaigning Others
9 March Two students, Choo Kok Wei and Medecci
6 January Police arrested six PKR Lineil Repong from Universiti Utara Malaysia in Sintok,
members for putting up posters of Kedah, were charged by the university with breaching
the murdered Mongolian, Altantuya the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA).
Shaariibuu, at Kuala Terengganu, They had issued statements to the media condemning
during a by-election campaigning an increase in bus fares and started an online petition.
period. The students and others presented a memorandum
to the office of the vice chancellor for student affairs,
23 March Thirty-one were arrested at Ahmad Faiz Hamid, on Jan 19.
a PKR ceramah in Sungai Petani. The
crowd, reported to be around 1,000 21 July The Home Ministry issued a prohibition order
strong, had assembled to listen to on 13 publications with “immoral content” and deemed
Anwar Ibrahim’s campaign speech for unsuitable for the reading public.
the Bukit Selambau by-election. They
were met with tear gas and water 8 August The Home Ministry banned 22 books in the
cannon from the police. seven months to July this year said the Publications
Control Division and Al-Quran Text Division principal
27 March Police banned all political assistant secretary Abdul Razak Abdul Latif
parties from giving talks in open areas
throughout the Bukit Selambau by- 9 September Six men were charged with sedition
election. Election watchdog ‘Malaysians in the Sessions Court for their involvement in the
for Free and Fair Elections’ (Mafrel) “cowhead” protest.
said there was heavy, unjustified police
presence during three by-elections in 14 September A protest was held against the Malaysian
Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau and Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)’s
Batang Ai. investigation of online news website Malaysiakini, which
had been accused of fanning racial tension.
31 March Topics such as the
Shaariibuu murder and the Perak 28 September Bruno was banned by the National Film
political crisis, as well as race and Censorship Board
religion, were banned from campaign
speeches in the triple by-elections 13 October 8 students from University Malaya were
of Bukit Gantang, Bukit Selambau charged under the UUCA for inviting an opposition
and Batang Ai. The topic restrictions politician, Exco of Selangor state Teresa Kok to
were made specific as conditions of be part of their panel judges for an on-campus
obtaining a police permit for public debate competition, despite amendments to the law
speeches. which allows students interaction with politicians on
30 May The police said they are
investigating three Pakatan leaders 24 Dec Copies of Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir
including DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad in Turbulent Times were confiscated from
in relation their public speeches the Port Klang checkpoint for “content study” by the
during the Penanti by-election. Home Ministry.
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Published by Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) 2010
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