Malaysia: Cease investigations of The Star newspaper and its journalists

ARTICLE 19 condemns the investigation of five editors and a photographer from The Star newspaper under the Sedition Act and the Penal Code for sedition and religious hate. The Star is being investigated by police for their front page of 27 May, which featured a photograph of Muslims performing their Tarawih prayer (a prayer performed during Ramadan) underneath a summary of a story which was, headlined “Malaysian Terrorist Leader”. The newspaper immediately issued a formal apology on 28 May citing an “error of judgement”.

The Home Ministry issued The Star a show-cause letter on 29 May calling for the newspaper to explain why its publication should not be suspended under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. This Act seriously limits independence of the media and free expression, giving broad power to the Home Minister to revoke or suspend a permit for any period he considers desirable. Criminal investigations were then opened on 30 May despite an earlier apology published by The Star and the suspension of Editor-in-Chief, Datuk Leanne Goh Lee Yen and Executive Editor, Dorairaj Nadason.

Editors Rozaid Abdul Rahman, Brian Martin, Dorairaj Nadason, M. Shanmugam and Errol Oh and photographer Mohd Sahar Misni were called for questioning on 31 May at Bukit Aman police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur and investigated under Section 4 of the Sedition Act and Section 298(a) of the Penal Code. Section 298(a) of the Penal Code criminalises offences related to religion “causing, etc., disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will, or prejudicing, etc., the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion”.

“The use of the Sedition Act and the Penal Code, which are not in accordance with international human rights standards, against The Star, who has issued a formal apology and suspended two of their editors since publication, is an unnecessary and worrying restriction on press freedom in Malaysia. The hundreds of individuals, including media workers, who have been investigated, charged, and often convicted under the Sedition Act in recent years underlines the urgent need for its repeal, and this latest case is another example of its repressive use” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 echoes the concerns of national civil society coalition Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (Abolish the Sedition Act Movement) who have condemned the investigation of The Star and are calling for the repeal of the Act. The investigation further calls into question Najib Razak’s recent statement that freedom of speech is ‘thriving’ in Malaysia. Just two weeks ago, ARTICLE 19 criticised charges brought against independent media portal Malaysiakini, its CEO and Editor-in-Chief under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malaysian Government to immediately drop all investigations against journalists of The Star and to repeal repressive legislation, including the Sedition Act, which limits the right to freedom of expression. The Malaysian government must also take steps to ensure the conformity of existing laws regulating expression with Article 10(a) of the Federal Constitution and international human rights law.

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