Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Stop harassing Malaysiakini, CPJ and CIJ tell gov’t

   Published     Updated

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the government to stop harassing news portal Malaysiakini.

This comes after police opened a criminal investigation into Malaysiakini, and following the red-shirts' threat to “tear down” the news portal's building.

"The notion that Malaysiakini's independent reporting could somehow be a threat, rather than a boon, to Malaysia's democracy shows how contorted the government's priorities have become," CPJ senior Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin said on its website.

"We call on police to stop this politicised probe and for the government to cease threatening independent journalists."

A special team was formed by police to investigate Malaysiakini over funds it received from American billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF).

In a text message to Malaysiakini, inspector-general of police Khalid Abu Bakar said the case is being investigated under Section 124C of the Penal Code for attempts to commit an act detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

Those found guilty could face a prison term that can extend to 15 years.

Both Malaysiakini chief executive officer Premesh Chandran and editor-in-chief Steven Gan have denied the claim that the funds were allocated with the aim of toppling the government.

A detailed explanation has been provided on the issue, while OSF has also denied that it is motivated by an agenda to topple governments.

Premesh also clarified that the grant in relation to KiniTV was used to produce the 'Realiti Sarawak' and 'Sekilas Bumi Kenyalang' programmes.

He added that the grant only constituted a small portion of Malaysiakini's revenue, which largely relies on subscription and advertising.

Apart from the police, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) is also investigating reports lodged on the OSF funding.

Renewed bout of allegations

Meanwhile, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) also denounced what it described as a "renewed bout of allegations regarding foreign interference in Malaysiakini and certain civil society organisations through the OSF funding".

"This very issue was first used a few years ago against civil society groups in an attempt to discredit and criminalise the Bersih movement.

"We wish to highlight that the debacle resulted in legal action where government-linked media New Straits Times was forced to issue an apology," it said.

CIJ also condemned threats by the red-shirts, which it described as a "pro-establishment vigilante group", to tear down the office of Malaysiakini.

"The group clearly tried to act on their promise when it marched to the Malaysiakini office last Saturday.
 
"While the Malaysiakini office was secured by the police on that day it remains that threats of violence against the media are real and escalating in Malaysia.
"The media is an integral part of democracy and must be protected from any attempt to prevent it from providing information to the public," it said.

CIJ said the government must fulfill its obligation to protect media freedom as well as every citizen's right to freedom of speech, assembly and association.

"We further call on the Umno and BN leadership to restrain the red-shirts group led by none other than their own Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Md Yunos, and Umno Youth exco leader Armand Azha Abu Hanifah from further violence against the media and members of civil society organisations," it said.

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