(Penang, Saturday): At
Suhakam yesterday during the handing over of the memorandum by Inisiatif
Wartawan (Journalists’ Initiative) on freedom of the press in the country and
calling for the repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the
spokesman for alternative media, Ahmad Lufti Othman expressed disappointment
with Suhakam for failing to work towards repealing restrictive press laws.
He expressed strong disagreement to the
“B++” grading given by the former Suhakam Chairman Tan Sri Musa Hitam for
the performance of Suhakam for its first two years and my grading of “C+”,
saying that he would rate Suhakam an “E” as there had not been one statement
by Suhakam to protect press freedom.
I fully agree with Lufti and would go
even further to give Suhakam an “E-“ as far as its performance on the
specific issue of freedom of speech, expression and the press is concerned.
This was why in my media statement yesterday proposing that Suhakam set
up a fifth working group on Press Freedom, I said: “One human rights area
which had been sorely neglected by Suhakam
in its first two-year term under the chairmanship of Tan Sri Musa Hitam was on
the freedom of speech, expression and the press.”
grading of “C+” for Suhakam’s performance in its first two years is largely influenced by the two Suhakam reports, the 32-page
report on freedom of assembly and the
66-page inquiry report on the
November 5, 2000 Kesas Highway Incident, both made public in August last year.
very fact that the two most
industrious, conscientious and committed Suhakam Commissioners responsible for
one or both the reports, Tan Sri Anuar Zainal Abidin and
Mehrun Siraj, had been
dropped from re-appointment is clear and disturbing evidence that the government
does not want Suhakam to muster even a “pass” grading for its performance of
its statutory duties to promote and protect human rights in the country.
the circumstances, Suhakam should focus on its “E” or “E-“ performance
on press freedom in the past two years to give top priority to freedom of
speech, expression and the press in
the coming 12 months.
It is most regrettable that the new
Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman was not personally present yesterday
to accept the memorandum signed by over a thousand Malaysian journalists on
press freedom, when it is addressed directly to him, raising the question
whether he would be the greatest obstacle to Suhakam to give priority to improve
on its “E” or “E-“ performance on freedom of speech, expression and the
press in the next 12 months.
Prof Mohd Hamdan Adnan, the sole
Suhakam Commissioner present to accept the journalists’ memorandum,
had proposed the setting up of a special joint committee comprising
Suhakam and media representatives to monitor press freedom in the country on a
regular instead of an ad hoc basis and to promote press freedom.
This is a commendable proposal,
considering that Suhakam had even failed to monitor press freedom on an ad hoc
basis in the past two years, provided it receives the full endorsement by
the Suhakam Commissioners so that the press freedom monitoring committee
is regarded as an integral part of Suhakam’s statutory duties to
“promote and protect” human rights and its findings and recommendations
receive the full imprimatur of Suhakam.
Hamdan should present a formal proposal
for the establishment of such a press freedom monitoring committee for formal
endorsement of the Suhakam commissioners at its next meeting on May 20, so that
such a body could be established and become operational within a month in view
of the urgency of the matter as well as the long dilatoriness of Suhakam to
address the problem faced by the “mother of all freedoms” in Malaysia.
The urgency to establish such a press
freedom monitoring committee is borne
out by the fact that after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United
States, there had been an avalanche of brazen and blatant violations of press
freedom in Malaysia, with
numerous instances in the past month alone, such as the
blackout in the mainstream
electronic and English/Malay print media of
news of the anniversary hunger
strike by the six reformasi activists detained under the Internal Security Act
and the widespread criticisms and protests over the appointment of former
Attorney-General Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman as the new Suhakam Chairman and the
other new Suhakam appointments; the
distortions of news reports in the mainstream media of the peaceful May Day
gathering of workers at the KLCC
and censorship of news of police high-handedness and brutality; and the
continued abuses of state radio and television against the Opposition treating
state assets as private properties of the ruling parties.
Hamdan cannot get the Suhakam Commissioners to approve the establishment of a
joint press freedom monitoring committee comprising Suhakam and media
representatives, then the least the Suhakam Commissioners should decide on May
20 is to form a fifth working group on press freedom to arrest the alarming erosion of the fundamental right of
free speech, expression and the press in the country.