The Kuala Lumpur-based Centre for Independent Journalism is expressing concern over a visit paid by police to the office of independent web-based daily, Malaysiakini.com, on 8 August. The police claimed Malaysiakini had defamed them by alleging police involvement in a pepper spray attack on former premier Mahathir Mohamad. The Bernama news agency reports that police filed a formal report on the Malaysiakini story, so as to enable themselves to carry out a formal investigation.
Four police officers, including one from the east coast state of Kelantan, showed up unannounced at the online daily’s office. They recorded a statement from editor-in-chief Steven Gan for two hours.
Gan said he was surprised by the visit because in the past, “malaysiakini
” would be asked to go to the police station for any investigation. He said the police officers acted professionally.
Two other editors and a reporter have been asked to give their statements at the Kuala Lumpur Commercial Crime Unit headquarters the following day.
When contacted, DSP Victor Sanjos from the Kuala Lumpur Commercial Crime Unit, who led the four-men team, said the visit to “malaysiakini” was normal procedure.
The police lodged a report against “malaysiakini” on 31 July over its newsflash on 28 July, which the police claimed was libelous. “Malaysiakini” admitted erring in the report and pulled it out an hour after it was uploaded. The online daily also offered to apologise to the police.
Malaysia criminalizes defamation, with those found guilty facing up to two years in jail. CIJ sees the police visit to the Malaysiakini office is a form of harassment, despite police claims that this is normal procedure. “As the police are respondents in this case, the investigation by police officers, including those from the district affected by the allegedly defamatory remarks, could compromise the online daily’s access to justice, as the police will have privileged access to the defendant’s arguments if the case is brought to court,” CIJ said.
The situation is made graver in the light of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s threat on 2 August to detain those who spread “untruths and slander” on the Internet and short-text messages.