Reporters Without Borders condemns the government’s decision to suspend the distribution of three opposition newspapers – Suara Keadilan, Kabar Era Pakatan and Rocket – since 30 June and restrict the distribution of a fourth, Harakah, since yesterday.
“This is the second time since Prime Minister Najib Razak’s election in 2008 that the opposition press has been subjected to this kind of restriction by the interior ministry,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Press freedom must be guaranteed by the government regardless of the party affiliation or political tendency of the media concerned.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We urge the authorities to reform the system of annual licence renewal, which leaves a permanent threat hanging over the country’s newspapers.”
Harakah is the only one of these four party newspapers to have its licence renewed. But the interior ministry has banned it from being sold in newsstands. Sale of the newspaper, which had a print-run of 120,000 copies, is henceforth restricted to the offices of the party controls it, the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).
“We urge interior minister Hishammuddin bin Tun Hussein to explain why he blocked renewal of the licences of Suara Keadilan, Kabar Era Pakatan and Rocket,” Reporters Without Borders added. “We call on him to renew their permits and to allow normal distribution of Harakah.”
Opposition parliamentarian William Leong told Reporters Without Borders that the government’s actions violated the constitution. “It is clear that the authorities are preparing the media terrain for elections in the near future,” he added, predicting the government would announce a new general election soon.
The interior minister insisted that the government was just enforcing the law and that the decision not to renew the licences had nothing to do with party politics.
Malaysia was ranked 131st out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.