Minister: Brunei unfairly hurt by unverified news on Christmas ban

File photo of Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Salleh Said Keruak, December 15, 2015. ― Bernama pic
File photo of Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Salleh Said Keruak, December 15, 2015. ― Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 26 — Brunei has suffered injustice and damage due to unsubstantiated news reports claiming it had imposed a blanket ban on Christmas celebrations, Malaysia’s federal minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak said today.

Salleh said the right to press freedom should be used the right way, saying news reports must be based on facts to avoid the spread of “false” stories, such as that of the Brunei kingdom’s so-called restrictions on Christmas.

“Take the news that has gone viral regarding Brunei imposing an absolute ban on Christmas. That news is now proven wrong but the damage has been done because this ‘news’ have gone viral.

“And this is what happens when we are not responsible and we report news without first doing a proper background check.

“While we hide behind media freedom and the right to report the news, we end up denying people the right to the truth and we subject Brunei to an injustice. This is not what media freedom is about,” the communications and multimedia minister said on his blog today in a post titled “Don’t confuse news with opinions”.

Salleh did not specify any news outlet or news reports that spoke of an “absolute” ban when making his comments, nor did he elaborate on how the purported claim of a blanket ban of Christmas celebrations in Brunei had been proven wrong.

Earlier in his blog post, Salleh said it would be impossible for any government to stifle all freedoms - including press freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of opinion, freedom to disagree, but said there are limits to such freedoms.

“We must, however, know where to draw the line with these freedoms and not cross that line by denying others their freedoms as well,” he said.

“Freedom of the press must be upheld for society to mature. But then we must also use this freedom in a mature manner,” he added as he urged for a distinction to be made between opinion and fact in news reports.

On December 23, news wire AFP reported that officials in the oil-rich Brunei would be enforcing a ban on Christmas decorations and celebrations in public in line with the sultanate’s adoption last year of strict Islamic criminal laws, sending ripples of unease throughout the region.

Earlier this year, the ban against any public celebration of Christmas in Brunei was announced, along with its punishment for violating the ban: a five-year jail sentence.

AFP had reported that Christians in Brunei are allowed to celebrate Christmas but were directed against doing so “excessively and openly”, while stating that local Muslim leaders there had this month said sending Christmas greetings, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs and using religious symbols like crosses are against the Islamic faith.

It reported that Brunei’s authorities have increased spot checks in the capital, with businesses told to take down Christmas decorations.

Today, The Brunei Times reported that Christians in Brunei celebrated Christmas yesterday without a hitch, as there were no new changes to existing regulations for the country’s religious minority to keep their religious celebration within their churches and private residences.

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