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Media Statement

Hands Off Malaysiakini!
Abolish Sedition Act

Raid makes mockery of official no-censorship pledge

Aliran strongly condemns the police raid on the malaysiakini office this afternoon (Monday, 20 January 2003) which led to the police's removal of all nineteen (19) computers used by malaysiakini journalists and personnel and three (3) servers.

What justifications can the police possibly give to defend such heavy-handed action?

1. The police made the raid in connection with their investigation of a report lodged by UMNO Youth five days ago that malaysiakini had carried an allegedly seditious letter at its website.

If the real issue is a police investigation of sedition, why should the police remove all of malaysiakini's computers? Isn't it usual for the police, based on mere analyses of specific utterances and statements, to pass the job of prosecution to the Attorney-General's office?

Odious as the Sedition Act has always been, today's police action indicates that its enforcement of this Act has descended to a new low.

2. It is also learnt that the police wanted to know the identity of the writer of the 'offending' letter. The editors of malaysiakini refused to provide the identity.

If that is the case, the police should apply to the Courts to instruct malaysiakini's editors to comply with the police demand. That would allow malaysiakini to defend their action in an open court according to the laws of the nation.

What legal or ethical right do the police have to violate malaysiakini's privacy by probing malaysiakini's records, files and databases in an unrestricted fishing expedition?

Aliran wholeheartedly supports the stance of the malaysiakini editors in this regard. They have both a professional responsibility and moral right to protect the confidentiality of sources, without which no newspaper worth its name can or deserves to survive..

3. Is the issue UMNO Youth's unhappiness that the letter apparently likened UMNO Youth to the Ku Klux Klan of the USA?

We in Aliran don't believe that UMNO Youth deserves to be lumped with the Klan. But if UMNO Youth thinks the comparison with the Klan is worth denouncing, let UMNO Youth clear its name through the mass media to which it has ample access.

When in 2000, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad likened Suqiu to extremists and communists, where were UMNO Youth and the police? Did UMNO Youth object to the blackening of Suqiu's name? Didn't certain UMNO Youth elements threaten to burn down the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall? Did the police investigate UMNO Youth then? Did the police remove Dr Mahathir's computers?

4. Or is the real issue a politically motivated attempt to cripple malaysiakini?

For the record, malaysiakini is universally considered to be the nation's only non-partisan, honest, critical, free and open forum. Since this online newspaper was started in November 1999, its popularity, at home and abroad, has vastly grown.

The popularity of malaysiakini testifies to the desperate need that Malaysians feel for reliable news, investigative reports, critical commentaries, thoughtful columns, free exchanges of opinions, and frankly written letters. These make up the regular contents of malaysiakini. In contrast, the mainstream media is only too well known for carrying half-truths, distorted views, outright lies and thinly disguised propaganda.

In a very short period, the independent and publicly supported malaysiakini has enjoyed a deservedly high level of credibility and esteem -- something which the rich and servile mainstream media cannot hope to attain.

In the past the Barisan Nasional government had tried to control and undermine malaysiakini's status. Being online, malaysiakini doesn't have a publishing permit but it was regularly warned that action could be taken against it for all kinds of unspecified offences. Not being part of the controlled mainstream media, malaysiakini's journalists were denied admission to certain official events.

Yet these and other obstacles didn't stop editor Steven Gan and his brave band of journalists and personnel from creating an oasis of freedom of expression. For all that and much more, they justly earned the gratitude and support of Malaysians who are utterly sick and tired of the Barisan Nasional's barefaced attempts to stifle public debate and censor discussions.

Has malaysiakini, by being honest, impartial, free, and yet successful, thus become an intolerable enemy of those who think that 'government of the people'means keeping a 'stranglehold on news'?

What then was the real reason behind the police raid today? Was it to shut down malaysiakini by police action when the Barisan Nasional couldn't curb malaysiakini's success and influence by other means?

What is the agenda behind the removal of the 19 computers and 3 servers? Is it to set Malaysia back to a darker age when there was no free, uncensored, online forum to challenge the Barisan Nasional's monopoloy of 'truth', or to compete with the mainstream media's unwanted 'news'?

Maybe the hidden political agendas of certain quarters, with either the UMNO succession in mind, or the next general election to plan for, have driven them to this desperate move against malaysiakini.

But they should remember that more than an online newspaper's survival is at stake here.

When he made his global launch of the Multimedia Super Corridor in 1997, Dr Mahathir Mohamad promised the whole world -- yes, the whole world and not just a few foreign investors -- that MSC was backed by an unalterable Bill of Guarantees for the Internet Age.

Among the '10 Guarantees' was Dr Mahathir's solemn pledge that Malaysia would not censor the Internet, would not police cyberspace, and would not interfere with the freedom of expression over the information superhighway.

Do the police understand that their action against malaysiakini today has made a mockery of Dr Mahathir's Bill of Guarantees? Does Dr Mahathir understand? Does his newly anointed successor, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, care?

Malaysians DO care!
Support malaysiakini!
Abolish the Sedition Act!

Aliran Executive Committee
20 January 2003

This statement was sent to the local media including The Star, New Straits Times, and The Sun.