January 20, 2003
strongly condemns the raid undertaken by the Malaysian police
today 20 January 2003 on the independent online Kuala Lumpur-based
news organization Malaysiakini.com.
The police today raided and seized 19 computers from Malaysiakini
today following a report lodged by UMNO (United Malays National
Organisation - the ruling party) Youth last Friday. The UMNO
Youth report itself followed a letter published in Malaysiakini's
"Letters" Section on January 9, 2003, and considered
"seditious" by UMNO Youth. According to reports received
by the FIDH, a 10-member police team led by Mohamed Kamaruddin
Md Din arrived unannounced at the online daily's office at 12.30pm
and confiscated 15 computer units and four servers from the
editorial department. The website has been temporarily shut
down as a result of the seizure. "They said this was to
facilitate their investigations into the report lodged by UMNO
Youth," said Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan. When
asked what the raid meant in the bigger picture of press freedom,
Gan said the government's notion of press freedom on the Internet
has been "shot to pieces".
The police had a 90-minute discussion with the editors before
moving in to seize the hardware.
Malaysiakini Chief Executive Officer Premesh Chandran accused
the police of acting unfairly in refusing to discuss any compromise.
"Their action is clearly not to investigate sedition but
to disable our operations as the country's independent news
provider. We know that this is an election year and that UMNO
and the government feel that Malaysiakini is a threat,"
The FIDH wishes to underline that an independent and free press
is an essential element of a democracy. It considers this raid
to be politically motivated and aimed at eliminating the few
spaces of freedom left in the Malaysian media. Since its inception,
Malaysiakini has always acted as an independent media organisation;
as such, it has come under increasing fire from the authorities,
and has been publicly vilified for its supposedly defamatory
articles on Malaysia. Throughout 2001 already, government officials
have repeatedly threatened to prosecute the website's officials
if its reporting "endangered national security".
Today's raid is the unfortunate confirmation of the authorities'
increasing will to stifle all forms of freedom in Malaysia.