JUNE 10, 2003 TUE

Will Malaysia's anti-piracy crackdown
work this time?

By Leslie Lau

THE Malaysian authorities ended their biggest operation against crime in recent years over the weekend, with nearly 500 arrests, millions of pirated VCDs seized and nearly 800 gaming machines confiscated in just two weeks.
The crackdown on pirated and pornographic VCDs resulted in millions of illegal discs being seized. The authorities have vowed to keep it up. -- AP
Police and other government enforcement officers conducted nearly 2,000 raids on warehouses, shops, night markets and nightclubs in a crackdown on smut and pirated VCDs, illegal gaming houses and other vice activities.
But the question facing the authorities now is this: Is the crackdown going to be sustained or will it be like so many other operations in the past where the perpetrators return to business as usual later?
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad gave an indication yesterday that perhaps this time the authorities were serious in eradicating Malaysia's image of being the centre of movie and music piracy in the world, and putting an end to the brazenness of vice activities in the country.
'This is a continuous thing. The moment you relax, it will come back so the police will be asked to continue with their action all the time,' said Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir.
According to official estimates, syndicates involved in the production of pirated VCDs have lost more than RM50 million (S$23 million) since police began raids two weeks ago and effectively crippled the sale and distribution of pirated movies in many parts of the country.
The nationwide raids were prompted by a public outcry and concerns raised by Dr Mahathir over the blatant way many of the piracy syndicates were operating.
Many Malaysians were especially angry at the display of pirated pornographic movies at night markets and other public places.
The police are even considering a controversial move to conduct home searches in an attempt to wipe out smut. During the two-week raid, nearly 200,000 smut movies were seized by the authorities, demonstrating a big demand among Malaysians for pornography.
The current crackdown was sparked in part because of the controversy that surfaced after a pornographic home video featuring a Malaysia Airlines steward having sex with his female colleagues began selling like hot cakes.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi also indicated that the crackdown was not just a public relations exercise for the authorities.
'The police say they have smashed 80 per cent of the distribution and sale of pirated and pornographic material, but this does not mean enforcement has come to an end,' he said.
The Straits Times understands that the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai, will meet senior officers today to outline sustained police action against movie piracy and pornography.
Besides pirated VCDs, police here have also begun cracking down on prostitution, especially after a number of high-profile cases that surfaced in the local media, detailing how mainland Chinese girls were being lured into the flesh trade here.
The blitz on crime has resulted in closed shutters or empty racks at VCD shops in the city.