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KUALA LUMPUR, July 24 — Putrajaya’s three-month ban on two local publications reveals a growing clampdown on press freedom in Malaysia and a bid to encourage self-censorship, human rights groups said today.
Amnesty International Malaysia said it was “extremely concerned” by the curbs on news reports of alleged “improprieties” in the local political and economic scene as well as limits on Malaysians’ right to information.
“The censorship of Sarawak Report, The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily is an unsettling indication of a media clampdown. Such actions to restrict media freedom also risk having a chilling effect on the media landscape as a whole.
“These attempts to limit legitimate media freedom are hallmarks of a repressive government that seeks not to protect fundamental rights of expression and information, but to instead stifle them further,” Shamini Darshni, executive director of the international group’s Malaysian chapter, said in a statement today.
Earlier this afternoon, the publisher of The Edge Media Group announced that the Home Ministry has suspended the printing permits of its two flagship publications for three months starting next Monday, with a possible revocation of the licences if it does not comply.
Citing a Home Ministry letter, The Edge Media Group said the ministry stated that the two publications’ reporting of 1MDB were “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today dismissed the Home Ministry’s justification, accusing the ministry instead of mounting a “serious assault” on press freedom and suppressing dissenting and critical press.
“The authorities must be reminded that journalism is not a crime. Press freedom is an indispensable component of any modern and democratic society as it functions as a form of check and balance against government excesses.
“Such authoritarian behaviour unfortunately sends a chilling message to the press to self-censor on issues such as 1MDB or else they may invite retaliation,” he said, pressing the Home Ministry to withdraw its suspension order and let public decide if The Edge’s 1MDB coverage was credible.
Today, Shamini also highlighted the media’s role in providing information in the public interest and a “crucial check on public and private institutions” to ensure transparent, accountable and ultimately responsible governance.
Last Sunday, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission ordered internet service providers to block access to Sarawak Report until the conclusion of a multi-agency taskforce’s probe on 1MDB, citing an alleged threat to “national stability” due to the purported unverified contents of the whistleblower website.