Call on Home Ministry not to make a fool of itself in continuing to withhold the  previous issues of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): I have just checked and been informed that the previous issues of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek with a cover date of March 1 and 2 respectively are still withheld from release by the Home Ministry after more than a week.

The Home Ministry should stop making a fool of itself in continuing to withhold these issues of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek in the age of information technology, when their  articles are already available on the Internet for the past week not only from their Internet editions but also from the beritamalaysia mailing list voluntarily operated by Yap Yok Foo collecting all articles, local and foreign, pertaining to Malaysia.  Home Ministry actions to withholding circulation of these publications because of “offensive” articles in them  would only generate greater public interests resulting in more Malaysians reading and circulating the articles concerned.

Taking a week or more before releasing the print editions of foreign magazines does not reflect well on the efficiency,  competence and professionalism  of the Home Ministry but an advertisement to the world that Malaysia is not a democratic country but reminiscent of authoritarian regimes like the previous communist government of Soviet Union or the Myanmese military junta.

The Home Ministry should at least explain the reasons for the unusual delay in releasing the two foreign magazines and what it finds offensive.

Is it because the Far Eastern Economic Review  issue carried an article entitled ‘Shaking the party  grip on power’ by Lorien Holland, which started off saying:

“ACCUSING PRIME MINISTER Mahathir Mohamad of cronyism and authoritarianism is the bread and butter of Malaysia's opposition parties. But on February 4, it was card-carrying members of his own ruling coalition who broke ranks to do that very same thing. Their attack at a 3,000-strong rally in the heart of Kuala Lumpur made politicians across the spectrum sit up sharply.”

The writer  said later in the article:

“The threat to Mahathir, 75, is not from a physical rival,  but from a creeping fear that the opposition just might break the ruling coalition's monopoly on power, held since 1957, and win the next general election in 2004. He faces a snowballing of whispers--spread in part by several senior Umno officials--saying he is playing into the hands of the opposition and is no longer up to the  job.”

The writer said that according to Umno sources, “well over half the all-important ethnic-Malay vote appears to have already swung toward the opposition. Of the remaining 40% of the electorate, ethnic Indians remain largely loyal to the ruling coalition, but the Chinese vote is wavering”.

Is Mahathir’s hold on power in his 20th year as Prime Minister so fragile that he is mortally frightened of such writing?

Asiaweek carried an article on  ‘The new crusade’ by Roger Mitton on  the rise of radical Islam in Southeast Asia, stating that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  fighters in the Philippines are supported by the Malaysian government.

The article said:

“At a safe house in Mindanao, MILF military commander Al-Haji Murad, who is wanted for murder, is frank about his pedigree. Around him are MILF soldiers with polished boots and modern machine guns. ‘My deputy and I did a year of special training for  guerrilla warfare in Malaysia in the early 1970s,’ says Murad.”

Mitton said that the Malaysian government support for Muslim  rebels in the region has officially ceased, but contacts remain at  the topmost levels.

In another article in the Asiaweek, ‘Building a legacy’, writer Arjuna Ranawana    claimed that Malaysia’s new administrative capital Putrajaya had Mahathir’s personality unmistakably stamped on it despite it being named after the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

He wrote:

“The biggest building is the prime minister’s department, which is at the centre of everything. A six-storey granite structure the size of several city blocks, with green windows topped with a green dome, it dominates the city in the same way that Mahathir has  exercised a supreme influence over his country since he became prime minister two decades ago.”

Are the Home Ministry’s withholding of these issues of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek a signal of a new intolerance against criticism in the foreign media, marking the implementation of a new strategy  by the joint committee formed by the Ministries of Information and Foreign Affairs to “counter negative reporting in the foreign media”?


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman