It does Malaysia no honour to be the first Commonwealth country in fifty years to jail a journalist for contempt of court, especially as it is regarded as a grave threat to the fundamental liberty of freedom of express and a free press.
International press groups have started clamouring the Prime Minister to pardon Murray Hiebert, and these include the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which said it was "deeply dismayed" with the six-week imprisonment of Murray Hiebert as "no journalist should be jailed for what he or she writes".
The CPJ said in a statement that it was "particularly concerned that Hiebert's harsh sentence might be seen as a warning to journalists covering the politically charged trial of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, whose case has brought international scrutiny to Malaysia's judicial system."
In urging Mahathir to pardon and immediately release Hiebert, the CPJ called for a "thorough and impartial investigation into Hiebert's prosecution to determine if there was any miscarriage of justice."
The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres said Hiebert's sentence marked a "dramatic step back for press freedom in Malaysia where local journalists are already pushed to self-censorship" and it asked the Prime Minister to "personally intervene in order to ensure that Hiebert is immediately and unconditionally released."
DAP fully supports the pardon and immediate release of Murray Hiebert, not because of mounting international calls as well as criticism of this case by foreign countries and leaders like the United States President Bill Clinton and the Canadian Government, but because this is the right and proper thing to safeguard Malaysia’s international reputation and promote fundamental liberties like freedom of expression and a free press.
DAP fully supports the view that putting a journalist in jail for doing his job undermines the press freedoms that play such a critical role in building a democratic society.
Lest the DAP is accused of parroting international calls or bowing to international pressure, it should be noted that the DAP was the first organisation both inside and outside the country to call for the royal pardon of Murray Hiebert and his immediate release.
Immediately after Murray Hiebert was sent to Sungai Buloh jail to start his six-week jail sentence last Saturday, former DAP MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng and I expressed our outrage at the custodial sentence by announcing our boycott of the opening of the 12th Commonwealth Law Conference by the Prime Minister scheduled two days later (i.e. yesterday).
On the next day, on Sunday, 12th September 1999, I called on the Prime Minister to announce in his opening speech of the Commonwealth Law Conference the next day a far-reaching four-point action plan to restore national and international confidence in the rule of law and close the gaping divide between law and justice in Malaysia, including the royal pardon and immediate release of Murray Hiebert as a commitment by the Malaysian Government to protect and promote the fundamental liberties of freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, accompanied by greater press democratisation and the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act to give Malaysians the right to all government information, except in cases of national security or personal privacy.
Malaysians themselves, particularly local journalists, should be in the forefront to express concerns about the far-reaching implications of the Murray Hiebert case on freedom of expression and a free press and to call for Hiebert’s pardon and immediate release, and not leave it to international press organisations and foreign governments and leaders the monopoly of these concerns.