Police arrested editors Lionel Morais, Zulkifli Sulong and Amin Shah Iskandar and seized their mobile phones and laptops over a news report on the Conference of Rulers, which is said to be erroneous.
TMI executive director Jahabar Sadiq and The Edge publisher Ho Kay Tat were also arrested this morning after presenting themselves for questioning at the Dang Wangi district police headquarters.
“(The) raid and arrests is part of a worrying trend of a decline in standards of freedom of expression in Malaysia.
“It is embarrassing and appalling that the law is being utilised in this manner and this constitutes an assault on the rule of law,” CIJ directors Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee said.
In a statement, they said a rebuttal or request for retraction would have sufficed if the portal’s article alleging that the Conference of Rulers - a council of the country’s nine sultan which generally meets three times a year - had rejected hudud is incorrect.
CIJ is of the view that the police could have carried out their investigation and obtained information from the editors without taking them into custody.
“It is not a secret that TMI published the article in question, nor is TMI denying authorship of the article,” Sonia and Kee said.
Lionel ( left ), Zulkifli and Amin Shah were arrested under the Sedition Act as well as the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA). Their remand hearing is scheduled for 10am today.
Keeper of the Ruler’s Seal Syed Danial Syed Ahmad made a police report last Thursday denying any statement had been issued on the stand of the Conference of Rulers on the proposed implementation of hudud in Kelantan.
"The Conference of Rulers has never discussed the matter at its meetings. The office (of the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal) did not issue a press statement dated March 25 on the matter," Syed Danial said, referring to a fake press statement that claims the rulers were angry with the TMI report.
Umno Youth lodges report
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin had last Friday lodged a report against the news portal with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
Supporting CIJ, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran said police raids on newsrooms must be condemned as they breach the media’s right to do its job.
“The media is a critical forum for diverse voices, which must be protected and not criminalised,” Gayathry ( right ) said in a statement.
She also raised concerns that the CMA is used to suppress dissenting opinions.
Journalist group Geramm has also decried the raid as a form of “intimidation and harassment” and urged Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to abide by international standards and stop the use of the Sedition Act.
Geramm said media freedom is an institution as important as the royal institution and must be given due protection.
The media has always cooperated with police investigations so the arrests are unjustified, it said.
“Geramm once again condemns the disproportionate use of police powers as an attempt to silence the media,” it lamented.
Joining the chorus of condemnation is the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJ), which said the arrests do not bode well for Putrajaya’s guarantee of press freedom.
“This action does not augur well for the government’s promise to allow the Malaysian media to operate freely and without fear of their reporters being detained under questionable reasoning,” said NUJ secretary-general Schave Jerome De Razario.
“The union believes the police, by invoking the Sedition Act to investigate journalists, are regarded as a means to intimidate and interfere with press freedom,” he added.
Cops shooting themselves in the foot
Journalist group The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) said the arrests backfire on law enforcement agencies and "erodes their perceived legitimacy".
"The disproportionate enforcement action was a sorely missed opportunity to encourage a much-needed civil and informed conversation on the responsibility and role of the press as a public institution, especially in light of the recent divisiveness in the country.
"We reiterate our call for the Sedition Act to be repealed and we urge the authorities to refrain from taking unnecessarily heavy-handed action against the press," it said in statement this afternoon.
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen (left) , too believes that the arrests are "high-handed".
"This massive show of force to detain TMI’s most senior editors and The Edge group CEO, confiscating their equipment and applying for their remand seems clear enough - to send a strong and chilling message to the media to toe the line.
"It is clear that the arrests and remand application were not necessary as any investigation could have been done with their cooperation and seem intended as a form of pre-trial punishment,” he said.
Meanwhile, PKR communications director Fahmi Fadzil branded the arrests an "attack on media freedom".
"After a series of arrests against more than 150 activists, politicians, MPs, state assemblypersons and academics, the arrest of media practitioners continue to erode the rakyat’s trust towards the ‘transformation’ and ‘moderation’ trumpeted by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak," he said in a statement today.