Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Raid silences Malaysian news Web site

By Dave Brewer in London

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- One of Malaysia's only independent news groups was temporarily silenced Monday after a raid by government officials.
A policeman confiscates computers during a raid of the office of Internet newspaper, Malaysiakini

According to the operators of the Malaysiakini Web site, essential computer equipment needed to update and manage their online news service was confiscated in the raid.
The authorities, who moved in at lunchtime local time, said they were taking the action because a letter, published on the site had made false accusations and questioned special rights accorded to ethnic Malays.
They said such comments could instill hatred towards the government in non-Malay Malaysians.
Officials said they were investigating a police report relating to a charge under Malaysia's Sedition Act.
In all 14 newsroom computers were removed and four servers worth around RM150,000 ($40,000).
According to Azimi Daim, the information chief of Umno Youth, the Malay partner of the ruling coalition, the letter at the center of the investigation falsely accused the government of ignoring the benefits of indigenous people, known as "orang asli", and claimed allowances and medical care are only given to those who become Muslims.
"It also implied that Malays are the cause of poverty among Indians as Malay businessmen were said to have bought plantations for project development," he said.
Malaysiakini said the removal of the computer equipment left its team of journalists unable to update stories to the site.
However, the group said it was now working on other ways of producing news updates and the site can still be viewed. But all newsrooms tools, including the software for producing stories on the site, the content management system, have been confiscated.
The site has been operating from offices in Kuala Lumpur for three years and has built a following of users at home and abroad willing to pay a subscription for its news service.
Malaysiakini editor Steven Gan said that Malaysiakini's letters forum was set up to encourage free and open discussion on controversial issues.
"But that does not mean we publish letters without due care,' he said.
"We exercise a strict selective process in which letters that are considered personal attacks or those which could possibly breach existing laws are left out," he said.
"We believe that the said letter did not carry any seditious remarks that could incite racial violence, but was based on a factual comparative study."
Today's police report is the third made against Malaysiakini since its launch three years ago.
In March 2001, police in the Malaysian state of Selangor lodged a report against the Web site for quoting opposition comments questioning the official death toll from racial rioting in the city of Petaling Jaya.
In July of the same year, a university student leader filed a report claiming that a letter published on Malaysiakini bearing his name was not written by him.
But this is the first time that the site has, effectively, been silenced -- although Gan says he is planning on resuming Malaysiakini's news service as soon as possible.