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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Crackdown On Media, Cyberspace?

Today is just a copy and paste article from Malaysia Chronicle.

Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

A crackdown on opposition leaders,journalists and bloggers may be in the offing in Malaysia as Prime Minister Najib Razak fights tooth and nail to suppress scandalous information implicating him and some of his family members in a high-profile murder-and-graft case.

With just hours to go before a much-anticipated press conference starts in London, the Home Ministry and police have already begun the intimidation game in Malaysia.

At the presser tagged the Bala thrilla, a private investigator P Balasubramaniam has promised to spill the beans on Najib's alleged involvement in the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder and Scorpene-submarines corruption case.

Leading the clampdown in Malaysia was Najib himself. Speaking to national news agency Bernama, the PM warned he would not tolerate stories that are concocted, lies or defamatory. "If a building or road is damaged, we can repair it, but if it is the people's thinking and values, the consequences will be bad," Najib said.

Hot on his heels was top cop, Musa Hassan, who warned any individual seen to be in collusion with fugitive blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin - whom Najib blames for instigating the press conference - could be hauled up. "We can propose to charge them for harboring criminals but it is up to the court to decide," said Musa.

But the menace in his words was unmistakable. Lawyers expressed concern as Musa's comments implied a bullying, 'arrest-first-talk-later' strategy to gag Najib's critics and strike fear into the hearts of the citizenry.

Intimidating the media and cyberspace

CID chief Bakri Zinin was next. He told Bernama that the police will be recording statements from certain politicians, editors and reporters involved in the recent slew of news articles on Raja Petra. "We will record statements from several reporters this week," said Bakri.

According to Bakri, two police reports were lodged in Petaling Jaya and Brickfields on Sunday, accusing certain people of harboring Raja Petra. The CID chief did not identify the people accused or say who lodged the police reports.

But the media controlled by Najib's Umno party has been picking on PKR coordinator Zaid Ibrahim, who is in London to launch the Friends of Pakatan Rakyat project. Zaid has made no bones about meeting Raja Petra, saying it was his personal right to choose his friends.

Nonetheless, the series of steps taken by the Malaysian authorities to protect Najib - whether coordinated or coincidental - is likely to backfire. Instead of striking fear, the ominous words that came from Najib, his cousin Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and the Malaysian police are likely to spur even greater national and international protest.

Malaysia already suffers one of the poorest images in the world due to the government’s ham-fisted licensing of media publishing and printing permits. Newspapers firms in the country are obliged to apply for annual renewal of their permits and the extensions are at the sole discretion of the Home Ministry.

Civil rights activists have slammed this archaic law as little better than manipulation and blackmail - a means by which the government can influence and dictate the news flow, especially the political overtones, in the country.

Crackdown would bolster his position in Umno

Meanwhile, the Home Minister has already begun what many fear is a prelude to a roundup of media practitioners, including bloggers such as Raja Petra, to black out dissent and protest at the degeneration of democracy and justice in Malaysia.

Already, Hishammudin's ministry has banned Suara Keadilan, the newspaper of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR party. The Malay-language weekly, which is popular in the rural areas, had front-paged a story entitled Felda Bankrupt.

The article upset Najib, who oversees Felda. It highlighted gross mismanagement in the cash reserves belonging to the Felda land settlers. In a move indicative of how worried he is, the PM's Department slapped a RM200 million defamation suit on the newspaper.

PAS, which publishes the Harakah newspaper twice a week and Siasah weekly, has not been spared. The Islamist party was also hauled up and warned its newspaper permits could go the same way as Suara Keadilan if it did not toe the line.

Even political cartoons have not been spared. A series of satirical drawings depicting Najib and Altantuya, a beautiful 28-year old translator killed in Malaysia in 2006, has been banned and the offices of the cartoonist, Zunar, raided.

However Suara Perkasa, the latest weekly in town published by ultra-Malay rights group Perkasa was let off with a slap on the wrist. This despite having front-paged in its maiden edition an article calling for the arrest of a Chinese leader and which contained racists inferences. Perkasa is regarded by many to be a wing of Umno’s,

Pundits say with the emergence of so much 'baggage' - from Felda to Altantuya to the Scorpenes - Najib's political survival is on the line. Both nationally and within his own Umno party. If he did indeed take emergency measures, it would be to bolster his position in Umno and help stave off a mutiny from a growing group of warlords unhappy with his leadership.

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