Mahathir should learn from the political reforms of Indonesia and Iran which have brought greater freedom of expression and more press freedom to their people as compared to the past few years

- PAS forum on "Harakah - Victim of Oppression" 
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Tuesday): If UMNO had not suffered its worst electoral defeat in its party history in the  tenth national general election on Nov. 29, 1999, losing Terengganu state, unable to recapture Kelantan and nearly losing Perlis, Kedah and even Pahang state governments, while losing 16 Parliamentary seats as compared to the 1995 general election, Harakah would not have been "punished" and reduced from a bi-weekly into a bi-monthly.

But there is another reason for the repressive action against Harakah - the fear and lack of confidence on the party of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi and the present UMNO leadership that they could compete with the Barisan Alternative and PAS for the hearts and minds of Malaysians, particularly the Malay heartland, in an open, fair and democratic contest.

There is a third important aspect of the crackdown on Harakah - it signifies a political decision by the top Barisan Nasional leadership that instead of responding positively to the cries for political, economic and social reforms by 44 per cent of the electorate, it  has decided on a hardline policy against human rights and fundamental liberties of Malaysians.

This explains for the latest blows against press freedom in Malaysia, whether Harakah or Detik, and the arrests and prosecution of Barisan Alternative leaders after the general election - like DAP Deputy Chairman, Karpal Singh, Keadilan Vice Chairman Marina Yusof and Youth chief, Mohd Ezam and Harakah editor Zulkifly Sulong.

Without press freedom and freedom of expression, the battle of the Barisan Alternative for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance will be all the more harder - although history has shown that no human power can forever stifle human aspirations for a more just and equal society.

I am very surprised  today to read a report on the Second Global Knowledge Conference (GKII) being held in Malaysia, where a Malaysian participant said that "an active and free media does not necessarily lead to better development and less corruption in society",  pointing to Philippines as an example where there is "remarkably free press" but "corruption is so deeply ingrained there that nothing moves".

I agree that an active and free media does not necessarily lead to less corruption in society, but an active and free media is a vital precondition for any anti-corruption campaign to succeed.

This contribution of this Malaysian participant at the GKII is significant, not as representing the views of one individual, but in reflecting the philosophy of the Barisan Nasional government in justifying a clampdown on freedom of expression and free media in the country.

Mahathir is visiting Indonesia tomorrow. The government spokesman wants Malaysians to believe that the Prime Minister is in Indonesia to help in Indonesiaís economic recovery and rehabilitation.
There are things Indonesia can learn from Malaysia but there are also things which Malaysia can learn from Indonesia and other countries.

For instance, Mahathir should learn from the political reforms of Indonesia and Iran which have brought greater freedom of expression and more press freedom to their people as compared to the past few years - while in contrast, Malaysians are being stifled with more constraints on freedom of speech and media freedom as compared to a few years ago.

The latest crackdown against press freedom has also raised serious questions about the governmentís commitment to its Bill of Guarantees to promote the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) of "No Internet Censorship", when two Deputy Ministers, Datuk Chor Chee Heung (Home Ministry) and  Datuk Tan Chai Ho (Energy, Communications and Multimedia Ministry) could  on the same day  last Thursday announced that   the Harakah online cannot be updated more than twice a month -  a blatant act of Internet censorship.

Although this announcement was immediately overruled  by the Prime Ministerís Department, the damage had been done, and the world Information Technology (IT) community must be wondering what could be the outcome if the "No Internet Censorship" guarantees results in grave political disadvantages to the Barisan Nasional in the coming years in the battle against the Barisan Alternative for the hearts and minds of the people.

Would the Barisan Nasional leadership decide at the end of the day to abandon the "No Internet Censorship" guarantee regardless of the adverse consequences to the MSC just to protect and consolidate its political power-base?

The world IT community needs assurance that the "No Internet Censorship" is sancrosant and could not be tinkled with to suit the political advantages of any Barisan Nasional leader or government of the day.

The only way to give this assurance to the world IT community is for an amendment to the Malaysian Constitution to entrench the guarantee of "No Internet Censorship" so that it would not be subject to the whims or fancy of any political leader or government of the day.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman