The National Human Rights Society (Hakam) has warned that suspension of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Dailywill only fuel more suspicion that Putrajaya has something to hide.
In a press release today, Hakam president Ambiga Sreenevasan (photo) said the suspension of the two newspapers, which have reported extensively on the 1MDB controversy, was an attempt to stop public discourse on the important issue.
She said that the allegations made by the two newspapers - that rouge businessman had siphoned off billions of ringgit from 1MDB, which is owned by the Finance Ministry - was of significant public interest.
"When the government is unwilling to answer these allegations and instead chooses to shut down the media, this only affirms the public’s suspicion of large-scale corruption," she said.
Ambiga, who was formerly the Bar Council president, said that the reasons given by the authorities for suspending the two newspapers - that the their reporting was "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order" - were untenable.
"We cannot allow the government to hide under arbitrary notions of 'public order' which clearly do not apply. The Sarawak Report website was blocked a few days ago for precisely the same reason.
"The government should instead encourage whistleblowers and cooperate to seek the truth, not to silence them. When the government does otherwise in the face of corruption scandals, it is the government that is truly jeopardising 'public and national interest'."
Ambiga said freedom of expression and the press must be protected and promoted to ensure that the needed informed political debate takes place in order to safeguard public accountability and transparency.
"At a national level, this constitutionally guaranteed human right is necessary for good governance and therefore for economic and social progress," she said.
Yesterday, the Home Ministry announced the three months suspension of the printing license for the two influential business newspapers which will take effect from July 27.
This follows theadmission of the newspaper's owner Tong Kooi Ong that some documents used for its articles on 1MDB were sourced from former PetroSaudi International Ltd (PSI) director Xavier Andre Justo.
Justo is now being held by the Thai authorities for attempting to blackmail PSI by threatening to expose the stolen documents.
Putrajaya on the other hand is claiming that reports by the two newspapers and whistleblower website Sarawak Reportwas based on "tampered" documents.
Thus far, Putrajaya, 1MDB and PSI have yet to provide any proof of this.
'Putrajaya not convincing'
Meanwhile, Bar Council president Steven Thiru (photo) had described the grounds of the suspension were "unconvincing and unreasonable".
"The suspension order can easily be perceived as a blatant or deliberate attempt to silence a contrary or critical voice on a matter of public interest.
"This is deplorable as it suggest the affected parties are incapable or unwilling to rebut or to respond to the concerns or criticism expressed by The Edge.
"This in turn gives rise to the reasonable conclusion that the allegations made by The Edge have merit, substance and credibility that cannot be rebutted and that the alleged wrongdoers are being protected," he said.