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Nanyang cautioned against Chinese version of Chin Peng book

The MCA-owned daily Nanyang Siang Pau said it did not translate or publish translated extracts from Chin Peng's memoirs in Chinese because it had received "a verbal caution and written advice" from the Home (now Internal Security) Ministry not to do so.

The newspaper was responding to a suit for breach of contract brought by Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor, the Australian co-authors and publishers of 'Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History'.

Last October, the two parties had concluded two contracts for Nanyang to publish translated extracts of the memoirs, and subsequently to translate the book into Chinese.

In a statement of defence filed in the Ipoh High Court on June 14, Nanyang claimed to have then received verbal caution from the ministry that the serialisation of eight chapters could "further inflame public passion and anger".

According to a copy of the court document obtained by malaysiakini , the newspaper said it wrote to the ministry on Oct 10 for advice, and received a reply dated Oct 15 from "the deputy minister" (not named - the ministry then had two deputies).

The deputy minister allegedly said that - in view of the controversies surrounding the book - to serialise and to publish it in Chinese "would not bring any help or benefit to a multi-racial society".

Nanyang also said its decision also factored in the history of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) - of which Chin Peng was a leader - and its perceived links with the Chinese community.

"Any publication in Chinese that promotes the cause or version of the CPM and its members is sensitive and will be closely scrutinised by the authorities concerned," the document said.

Apart from its statement of reply and defence, the newspaper also filed a counter-claim for a declaration that the contracts were null and void.

In their reply filed on July 16, the plaintiffs asked the court to strike off the defence and counter-claim without a hearing.

Potential beach of laws

Among points raised in its defence, Nanyang said the agreements negotiated were "unconscionable in that they failed to address the disadvantages and risks to the defendant".

This was in relation to possible contravention of conditions of the newspaper's permits issued under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), as well as breach of Sedition Act 1948 and Internal Security Act 1960.

Nanyang contended that the agreements are void under sections 24 and 25 of the Contracts Act 1950 because execution would be in breach of:

* Section 4(1)(b) of the PPPA, as this "is likely to promote feelings of ill will, hostility, enmity, hatred, disharmony or disunity"; or

* Section 4(1)(a) and (c) of the Sedition Act since the book has a "seditious tendency" as defined under section 3(1).

The daily supported its claims by referring to several incidents while negotiations were in progress, and when the English-language version of the memoirs went on sale last September.

On Sept 3, then Home Ministry officers had confiscated stocks of the book from a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur, it said in the document.

"There was also a publicised plan to bring back Chin Peng to Malaysia to launch...the book... (which) produced a firestorm of protest from various quarters...resulting in a passionate, heated and angry debate over his role in Malaysian history," it said.

It said this was evident from interviews with family members of victims of the CPM's "terror campaign", letters in the media and statements by the Ex-Servicemen's Association president, Deputy Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin, parliamentarians and then Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"Because of the (Home Ministry's) caution and the impending general election where sentiments of the people could be easily manipulated and inflamed, the defendant as a responsible news organisation could not proceed with the agreements," the document said.

Nanyang said it had also indicated to the co-authors the circumstances under which it would be prepared to proceed with the agreements - such as after the general election (eventually held on March 21 this year).

The document explained this would reduce the opportunity to capitalise on issues that would arise from publication "as an election issue that would inflame passions among the public, albeit at the risk of being prosecuted by the authorities".

'Distortion of facts'

Responding to the reply and counter-claim, the co-authors ( photo ) applied to the court to have these struck off, saying Nanyang had "failed to raise a defence or reasonable defence".

"To say that serialisation...and publication of the Chinese version...would contravene the defendant's publication permit is not only lame and without merit but, more specifically, is far-fetched and baseless," they said in their reply.

"The book has never been banned by the relevant authorities who, in fact. Issued a special communique to announce that it was not to be banned. Indeed, the book has been openly on sale in bookshops throughout Malaysia since (last) September - a period of over nine months.

"During this time, (it) has been on national bestseller lists for 26 weeks, 14 of these in the No 1 bestseller slot."

The co-authors charged that Nanyang 's interpretation of information linked to the CPM to be "a complete distortion of history".

They cited the peace accord signed on Dec 2, 1989 between the government and CPM to mark the cessation of hostilities.

It gave CPM members the opportunity to reside in Malaysia, with an express guarantee that they would not be penalised for past activities.