The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is concerned that the Malaysian government is subjecting whistleblowers of a government document of high public interest to police interrogation and threatening them with prosecution.
On 29 January 2007, police summoned three opposition leaders – Ronnie Liu, Tian Chua and Khalid Ibrahim – to the Bukit Aman police headquarters in capital city Kuala Lumpur for questioning. Earlier in the month, the politicians had exposed a government agreement with a highway concessionaire, which, they claimed, is “lopsided and not done in the best interest of the people”.
The police interrogation follows Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s threat, reported in a local daily on 10 January, to prosecute under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) one of the opposition parties involved in the exposé.
(The OSA allows for official documents, information or materials to be classified as top secret, the grounds of which cannot be questioned even in court. Offenders face a mandatory jail sentence of one to seven years.)
Civic society has viewed the threat as the latest in a string of disappointments from a prime minister who had promised an open, transparent and accountable government.
Argued the fledgling National Coalition for a Freedom of Information Act (NCFIA): “The public has a right to know the content of the agreement between the government and highway builder LITRAK. The government, as the trustee of tax payers’ money, should recognise, and not criminalise, this right.”
SEAPA notes that such agreements have become a matter of high public concern, especially after toll rates for five highways rose between 20 and 60 percent on 1 January, arousing public anger and protests.
Such public unhappiness will only be aggravated by the lack of information about the issue, the NCFIA said in a 16 January statement.
SEAPA supports the coalition’s call for the prime minister to “make public all the highway concession agreements and enact a Freedom of Information Act”.
The coalition consists of Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Writers’ Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI).