Malaysia threatens action over paper’s caning comments

(MSN News) – Malaysia’s home ministry said Thursday it had threatened to penalise one of the country’s top-selling dailies over an article which was critical of the recent caning of three Muslim women.

Read: Press self-censorship in Malaysia: a case study

“We have issued a show-cause letter to the Star newspaper as what was said in the article can threaten public order,” home ministry deputy secretary general Fuad Abdul Aziz told AFP.

“They have 14 days to explain to us why we shouldn’t suspend them as there have been at least three police reports filed by groups and people and the article can be viewed as an insult to Islam and Islamic law,” he added.

Fuad said the article titled “Persuasion, not compulsion“, by the English-language daily’s managing editor P. Gunasegaram, questioning whether the sentence of caning was appropriate, had upset Muslims.

“The Star‘s editor came to see us earlier this week and they published an apology in their paper on February 24 but we are seeking a fuller explanation and action to resolve this.”

He said that following the paper’s formal response, the ministry would have to decide whether to issue it with a warning, suspend it or revoke its publishing licence but said it was likely to be given a warning.

“The Star is an influential and established English-language paper so we want to make sure it continues reporting in a responsible manner,” he added.

Editors at the Star could not be reached for comment.

The Centre for Independent Journalism urged the home ministry to retract its letter and said the media’s role to provide opinions on current issues “must be respected”.

“A common response is to invoke the use of repressive laws, a threat used not only by the authorities but increasingly, by non-governmental organisations,” it said in a statement.

“This worrying trend has the effect of silencing dissenting views and putting a stop to intellectual engagement.”

The caning earlier this month of three Muslim women for having illicit sex, the first time the penalty has been carried out on women under Islamic law in Malaysia, has drawn outrage from rights activists.

The case has fuelled concerns over rising “Islamisation” in Malaysia, where religious courts have been clamping down on rarely enforced religious laws that ban alcohol and sex out of wedlock for Muslim Malays.