Thu, Sep 24, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Group tells Malaysia to stop harassing news Web site

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

A global rights group has urged Malaysia to stop harassing a news Web site after it put up a video of Muslim protesters stepping on a cow’s head during a protest against a planned Hindu temple.

The Aug. 28 protest raised ethnic tensions in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where about 8 percent of the country’s 28 million people are ethnic Indians. Most of the ethnic Indians are Hindus for whom cows are sacred animals.

Independent news Web site Malaysiakini was told to remove two videos, including one of the protest in Shah Alam, the capital of central Selangor state. The site has refused to remove them.

The clips are only accessible to Malaysiakini subscribers, with one of them showing protesters stepping and spitting on a severed cow head in front of the Selangor government’s headquarters, demanding that a Hindu temple not be built in their neighborhood.

The other video was of a subsequent news conference by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, a Muslim, who appeared to defend the protesters.

In a statement received late on Tuesday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government should not tell Malaysiakini to remove the videos.

‘DISAPPEAR’

“The government wants to make the problem disappear by taking the videos off the Internet,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

In a Sept. 3 letter to Malaysiakini, the Communication and Multimedia Commission warned that the videos were against the law because they “contained offensive contents with intent to annoy any person, especially the Indians.”

The offense is punishable by up to a year in prison or up to 50,000 ringgit (US$14,400). Commission officials have also questioned Malaysiakini’s editors and staff and asked for the tapes.

Malaysiakini has refused to remove the videos, saying they merely record news events.

“The government’s investigation of Malaysiakini is nothing short of media harassment and it needs to stop ... Malaysians are entitled to know all sides of a story. It is not up to the government to approve what news is fit to air, print, or post,” Pearson said.

Twelve of the protesters have been charged with illegal assembly, and six of them also with sedition, defined as promoting ill will and hostility between different races.

It is punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine. Illegal assembly is punishable by one year in jail and a fine.

GOVERNMENT LINK

All mainstream media in Malaysia are linked to the government, which is dominated by Muslim Malays. They account for 60 percent of the population. Ethnic Chinese and Indians are the biggest minorities.

Malaysiakini and blogs offering anti-government commentary are not subject to censorship but some have faced court action for articles and comments deemed to be offensive.

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