Last week, another international NGO has added its voice of condemnation against the arrest and prosecution of DAP Deputy Chairman and former five-term MP for Jelutong Karpal Singh, Parti Keadilan Nasional Vice President Marina Yusoff, KeADILan Youth chief Mohamed Ezam Mohd Noor, Harakah editor Zulkifly Sulong and Harakah printer Cheah Lim Thye.
ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship based in London, wrote to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to declare that it was "extremely concerned by the recent charges of sedition laid against a number of individuals who have publicly expressed opinions critical of the government, or have lent support to the political opposition" and the "official harassment of the non-governmental media".
It said these activities constituted a serious threat to freedom of expression in Malaysia and that the right to question the actions and motives of those who hold high public office is fundamental to freedom of expression and democracy.
"Restrictions on this right can only be justified in the most extreme circumstances. A charge of sedition implies a serious threat to national security. Such a threat may only justify limitations on freedom of expression in the circumstances set out in the Johannesburg Principles:
"National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
- Principle 6 of which states that expression may be punished as a threat
to national security only if a government can demonstrate that:
"According to our information, there has also been a recent campaign of official harassment against five private newspapers including Harakah, the others being Detik, Wasilah, Tamadun and Eksklusif. According to our information, action taken against the papers has ranged from banning their sale on news-stands, attempting to limit sale to members of the party whose views they support, to warning them against ‘spreading rumours’ or supporting opposition parties and impeding their publication on the pretext that they failed to notify staff changes to the Ministry.
"Also of serious concern are indications that the Ministry of Home Affairs may refuse to renew the publishing permits of some of these newspapers. International standards provide that registration of publications, if practised at all, should be no more than a requirement for technical details to be registered (for example, business address and company directors) and that there should be no refusal of registration on grounds other than failure to satisfy such requirements. Licensing of publications, where that involves official scrutiny of content or political affiliation, can never be regarded as legitimate.
"ARTICLE 19 wishes to stress that the requirement for annual re-registration of newspapers under the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act is unduly onerous for publications - an annual requirement to notify changes to registered details would suffice. Furthermore, direct interference in the working of the media, such as refusal by the Ministry of Home Affairs to grant newspapers registration on the grounds of content, undermines the right of Malaysian citizens to receive a wide range of information and ideas.
"We urge you to ensure that the charges of sedition against Zulkifli Sulong, Chia Lim Thye and Karpal Singh are dropped immediately. We also ask that you address the urgent need to repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the law on sedition, or amend them to bring them into line with relevant international human rights law and standards."
The Johannesburg Principles 1995 have been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion and are widely accepted as the appropriate international standard for national security restrictions on freedom of expression.