The police today raided and seized 19 computers from malaysiakini today following a report lodged by Umno Youth last Friday.
A 10-member police team led by Supt Mohd Kamaruddin Md Din arrived unannounced at the online daily's office at 12.30pm and confiscated 15 CPUs and four servers from the editorial department. The website has been temporarily shut down as a result of the seizure.
"They said this was to facilitate their investigations into the report lodged by Umno Youth over a letter which was published on Jan 9," said malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan.
The police had a 90-minute discussion with the editors before moving in to seize the hardware.
Attempt to shut down
Speaking to reporters after the raid, Gan said that the police had initially asked for the identity of the letter writer.
"When they asked for the identity of the letter writer, we told them that we as journalists will not breach our professional ethics by revealing our source.
"They said they understood our situation but after much talk and discussion, they decided to take away all our computers anyway.
"I find this an attempt to close us down. There is no reason to take all the computers away. Some of them have no connection at all to the letters," he said.
Gan added that the priority now is to resume operations as soon as possible.
"We hope to be online again within the next 24 hours. We are looking at our back-up plan and are already working on it as we speak now.
"We request our readers to be patient until normal operation is restored."
Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran accused the police of acting unfairly in refusing to discuss any compromise.
"Their action is clearly not to investigate sedition but to disable our operations as the country's independent news provider. We know that this is an election year and that Umno and the government feel that malaysiakini is a threat," he said.
The daily's legal advisor R Sivarasa said police action in seizing the computers was unreasonable and done in bad faith.
"The police know that the servers are necessary for the company's operations. We offered to give them a written undertaking that nothing in the servers would be altered or any evidence erased. However, this was brusquely refused," he said.
Premesh added that this rejection was unreasonable as the police report was lodged last week and if the editorial had wanted to change anything in the server, they would have done long before the police came today.
The police also refused malaysiakini 's request to make backup copies of material in their servers, said Sivarasa.
"When we asked for a commitment when they might return the computers, they refused to give a time frame. It could be weeks or months before they return them," he added.
Shot to pieces
When asked what the raid meant in the bigger picture of press freedom, Gan said the government's notion of press freedom on the Internet has been "shot to pieces".
'This will do more harm to the government policy to promote IT," he said.
Asked what Umno Youth's motivation was in lodging the report, Gan said, "That you'll have to ask them." He added however that it was likely that they were using this episode as a justification to shut down the company.
"We have been watched very closely throughout the three years we have been operating and we stand by our decision to publish this letter. The letter was not seditious. It is only a comparative study based on facts."