Malaysian opposition newspapers suspended in ongoing government crackdown

Two newspapers run by Malaysia’s opposition parties have been suspended by the Home Ministry for three months, effective from Monday. The suspensions appear to be part of an ongoing government led crackdown on an array of perceived opponents, ranging from bloggers and people attending political rallies to opposition parliamentarians. The newspapers Harakah, which is linked to the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and Suara Keadilan of the  Keadilan party, both had their permits suspended under the Printing Presses and Publications Act (1984). The suspensions come just a day before the country’s ruling United Malays Nation Organisation (UMNO) opened its annual general assembly. At this conference Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, is expected to be elected the President of UMNO, in advance of his planned accession next week as Prime Minister. A number of journalists representing at least six publications were denied media accreditation by UNMO to cover the party’s conference. By suspending the two publications, the Malaysian government is in effect taking a step towards silencing 37 percent of Malaysians who had voted for the opposition during the 2008 general elections. Amnesty International has called on the Malaysian government and in particular, the incoming Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak not to criminalize freedom of expression. Also on Monday, police fired teargas and chemical laced water on people, including children, without any warning during a gathering at Bukit Selambau, in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah. The constituents had come to hear opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speak in the run-up to the by-election in that area. Around 31 persons were reported to have been arrested, but all were released the next day. Earlier in March eight people were charged with criticizing Malaysia’s Sultan of Perak on the internet. Businessman Fuad Ariff Abdul Rashid and his lawyer wife, Fatimah Maisurah Abdullah, were charged on 16 March with two counts of posting critical comments against the Sultan on the ruler’s official website. This followed a nationwide swoop on bloggers on 13 March, which saw six others charged with similar offences. All were charged under the Communication and Media Act. In addition opposition parliamentarian and lawyer Karpal Singh was charged with sedition for his threat to sue the Sultan of Perak over the political crisis in Perak State. Singh had claimed that the Sultan had breached the State’s constitution when directing the resignation of the Chief Minister. Prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, opposition leader Teresa Kok and journalist Tan Hoong Cheng were arrested in September 2008 under the country’s Internal Security Act for allegedly being a threat to security, peace and public order. All except Raja Petra were released soon afterwards. Raja Petra was subsequently released in November following a successful legal challenge which has now been the subject of an appeal by the government.