Indonesia’s Foreign Policy: Relations with China

May 30, 2016

Indonesia’s Foreign Policy: Relations with China

by Evan A Laksmana

In mid-March, a Chinese Coast Guard rammed one of its own fishing boats to pry it free from Indonesian authorities who had seized it for illegal fishing off the Natuna Islands – the northernmost undisputed Indonesian island group.

The incident has put a spotlight on Indonesia’s foreign policy under President Joko Widodo or Jokowi. Analysts have carefully examined the incident in great detail (seehere and here).

In the incident’s wake, the Foreign Minister, Defense Minister, and Fisheries Minister responded in different, and somewhat overlapping, ways. The Fisheries Minister has become the public face for Indonesia’s visibly angry response, while the military, according to press reports, continues preparations to upgrade its facilities in the Natunas.

Several diplomats wrote op-eds slamming Beijing for its disregard of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the rules-based order Jakarta has always pushed for in the management of the South China Sea. Jokowi’s Chief Foreign Policy Adviser, Dr. Rizal Sukma who is currently Ambassador to London, noted the importance of illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing as the common challenge for Indonesia and China; rather than sovereignty as the Natunas are undisputedly Indonesian in the first place.

Yet, after delivering an official diplomatic protest to the Chinese Embassy, the Foreign Minister insisted that the incident had nothing to do with the South China Sea dispute. Jokowi also instructed Luhut Pandjaitan, the Coordinating Minister for political, legal, and security affairs, to take necessary steps but reminded him that China “remains Indonesia’s friend.”

Jakarta has taken a hard stance with those caught illegally fishing in its waters.

Indonesia destroyed 23 foreign fishing boats, as worsening relations over the disputed South China Sea drive countries to take tougher action to defend their maritime sovereignty.

This seemingly incoherent response reveals some of the broader trends in Indonesia’s foreign policy in recent years. First, despite the growing literature on how the post-1998 democratic transition and consolidation has overhauled foreign policy-making, foreign policy remains strongly, perhaps even idiosyncratically, a presidential affair.

This is partially a legacy of the centralised system entrenched under Suharto’s New Order, and partially because successive post-Suharto Presidents never paid serious and sustained attention to developing a professional, well-funded foreign ministry and a well-oiled foreign policy-making system – particularly one that can spans different parts of the government to harness the country’s different tools of regional and global engagement.

For almost two decades after 1998, only the organisational reforms instituted under Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda are noteworthy. But even those reforms were not well-funded, nor were they sustainable given some of the entrenched bureaucratic challenges and the ebbs and flow of presidential support. It is not surprising therefore that the personal characteristics of different post-Suharto presidents shaped and shoved Indonesia’s foreign policy.

What this means is that Jokowi’s personal aloofness on foreign affairs, his seemingly narrow domestic economic agenda, and his concerns with domestic politics, have prevented the Office of the President to marshal the nation’s strategic community to forcefully, coherently, and consistently respond to day-to-day challenges, including in the South China Sea.

Furthermore, the absence of a dedicated foreign affairs staff inside the Presidential Palace (or an executive National Security Council, for that matter), the departure of key foreign policy advisers, and the increasingly lack of chemistry and trust between the President and Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, have further exacerbated this problem.

Second, Jakarta’s over-reliance on the “non-claimant honest broker” position on the South China Sea suggests the `path dependence’ of institutionalist thinking within the Foreign Ministry. Two strands of institutionalist thought are particularly salient: the belief in the virtues of international law along with a rules-based order underpinned by UNCLOS 1982, and the utility of multilateralism and ASEAN.

The first strand goes back to the 1956 Djuanda Declaration and has been sustained and strengthened by a series of influential diplomats and foreign ministers trained in international law for the past several decades. In the early 2000s, there were reports of a growing network of influential diplomats under the tutelage of Foreign Minister Wirajuda that came through the Indonesian representative office in Geneva (all steeped in international law).

The second strand goes back to the founding of ASEAN (1967) and the New Order’s efforts to ensure domestic stability and regime maintenance by pushing for regional stability in Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s leadership of the grouping and its position as the country’s foreign policy “cornerstone”– and the fact that many of Jakarta’s achievements were done within a multilateral framework — has sustained this institutionalist thinking.

According to a former member of Jokowi’s transition team, these institutionalist strands of thought often crowd out other “scenario-based realist” thinking on foreign policy, which is often critical in dealing with developments in the South China Sea. The institutionalist thinking has also led to push backs from the broader  strategic community (including defense and fisheries ministries) in Jakarta concerned with China’s militarisation of the region and its constant encroachment of Indonesia’s maritime territories.

The logic of institutions is powerful but it is also glacial-paced. Meanwhile, as we can see, given the current escalations and rapidly changing “facts on the ground”, so to speak, in the South China Sea, Jakarta may need to realise it is being strategically blinded by its own lens and hindered by maritime governance inter-bureaucratic infighting

Third, given the previous two trends, Indonesia’s foreign policy-making requires better and improved inter-agency coordination and collaboration and larger funding and resources.

When it comes to the South China Sea, the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal, and Political Affairs should get the Foreign Ministry to talk more regularly to other agencies, particularly the Navy, Maritime Security Agency, and the IUU fishing task force of the Fisheries Ministry. The Foreign Ministry should also invest more in sending senior officials to attend regular inter-agency meetings and expand the number of senior diplomats sent to inter-agency courses, such as those run by the National Resilience Institute.

Given the prevalent view that Indonesia’s best and brightest tend to join the Foreign Ministry, policymakers should not let it become an isolated actor within the broader national security system and establishment. Additionally, House of Representatives’ Commission for Defence, Foreign Affairs and Information – charged with discussing issues related to its portfolio and formulating plenary bills for consideration by parliament –needs to be more involved in foreign policy-making and increase the budgetary resources for the Foreign Ministry.

The current budget only stands at roughly $549 million, with roughly 80-85 per cent devoted to routine expenditures and personnel salaries. This lack of budgetary support is not unique to Jokowi of course. According to budgetary documents compiled by CSIS Jakarta, the Foreign Ministry’s annual budget from 1999 to 2014 leveled at around $305 million on average, or roughly 0.69 per cent of the national budget.

We should bear in mind these broader trends and limitations in Indonesia’s foreign policy-making when expecting Jakarta to play a more proactive role in balancing the ongoing US-China strategic rivalry, and the peaceful management of the South China Sea disputes.

Evan A Laksmana is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta, and a political science doctoral candidate at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.


Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

March 23, 2016

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Blocked Site’s Closure Underscores Malaysia’s Press Freedom Crisis

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) interviews Malaysian Insider editor

On March 14, The Malaysian Insider abruptly closed its editorial operations less than a month after the state media regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, blocked local access to its news site.

The Edge Media Group, owner of The Malaysian Insidersaid in a statement that despite the site’s “courageous news reporting” it “did not receive enough commercial support to keep it going.” In a statement posted on The Malaysian Insider website, Editor-in-Chief Jahabar Sadiq confirmed the site was closed for commercial reasons.

The closure of the English language portal comes amid a government clampdown on independent media, particularly outlets that have critically covered the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal that has engulfed Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. In recent months, CPJ has documented how authorities have censored, harassed and threatened individual journalists and media outlets in retaliation for their critical coverage.

In an email interview, Sadiq spoke about the government pressure his now-shuttered site experienced and the broad deterioration in press freedom in Malaysia.

CPJ: Last month, The Malaysian Insider’s website was blocked by the state’s media regulator. What article did authorities cite to justify the censorship and why did they consider it sensitive?

Sadiq: Until today there is no official explanation by way of a letter to The Malaysian Insider as to the reasons for the block. All we have is a minister saying we were blocked for an article that was confusing the people of Malaysia and a foreign ministry statement saying that the article was a threat to national peace and harmony.

The news related to an unidentified panel member in the local anti-graft authority saying they had prima facie evidence to back criminal charges against the Prime Minister over a huge sum of money found in his private bank accounts. The Attorney-General had earlier said there was insufficient evidence for a charge.[EDITOR’S NOTE: Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.]

CPJ: Before the commission’s censorship order, did The Malaysian Insider face any official harassment, warnings or threats over its critical news coverage, including of the 1MDB scandal?

Sadiq: We faced investigations for another case last year, but not related to this. However, the Internet regulator issued a general warning to all news portals last July over news coverage, specifically the 1MDB scandal, and the need to avoid using “unverified” news from other sites. There has always been unofficial harassment and threats by supporters and activists linked to the government.

CPJ: How did the government’s blockage of your news site impact your readership? Were readers able to work around the block or was your site, in effect, blacked out?

Sadiq: Our news site saw traffic decline up to 30 percent after the block. Most readers were able to work around the block and traffic remained ahead of other news portals, but eventually it affected our earnings more as advertisers pulled out. In a sense, that loss of revenue led to a permanent blackout.

CPJ: How did the censorship impact your news site’s financial situation? Do you think Najib’s government has a deliberate policy of using economic means to bring down independent online media?

Sadiq: The block led to the permanent blackout as revenue plunged. Only one advertiser insisted on putting advertisements despite the block and, ironically, it was a government agency. I have no proof that there is a deliberate policy to use economic means, but advertising agencies have told us that government-linked companies have been discouraged from advertising with us. In our time, only one bank, CIMB, which is owned by the state sovereign wealth fund Khazanah [Nasional Berhad,] has consistently advertised with us. The others did not.

CPJ: What role, if any, did government pressure play in the final decision to close The Malaysian Insider?

Sadiq: As far as I know, there is no government pressure in the decision to close down The Malaysian Insider. The shareholders had indicated from January that they wanted to sell the business and received several inquiries. But the continued block was a factor that affected the sale price of the news portal and perhaps pushed the decision [by the Edge Media Group] to shut it down rather than sell at a lower price.

CPJ: How has Malaysia’s independent online media’s reporting on the 1MDB scandal differed from the state-influenced mainstream media’s coverage?

Sadiq: Well, it is as clear as night and day between both mainly. Several mainstream print media have tried to be as comprehensive as the online media’s wall-to-wall coverage, but the threat of losing their license has curbed them. Most of them have been defending the government in the 1MDB scandal, while the online media has reported the issues and exposés reported by foreign media and whistleblower websites.

CPJ: The Malaysian Attorney-General has proposed intensifying penalties, including possible life in prison and judicial caning, for violations of the Official Secrets Act. What impact would such revisions, if implemented, have on journalists, whistleblowers and press freedom in general?

Sadiq: The proposals, if true, are chilling. No one would want to work as journalists or if they did, they would just censor themselves rather than run the risk of jail or caning for reporting something remotely seen as a secret. There are whistleblower laws but this seems to contradict the laws that seek to keep the government transparent and accountable. Such revisions, if passed, will just mean the death of professional journalism in Malaysia, and what a sad day that would be.

CPJ: What is your broad assessment of the press freedom situation in Malaysia? Is there still a future for independent journalism, or is the government effectively moving to outlaw its existence?

Sadiq: I have always maintained that there is press freedom in Malaysia and our existence was proof of it. But I guess I am wrong now–we don’t exist. There is a future, but it is under severe attack if people shy away from funding it or think that it is someone else’s problem to fund and run it. The government does not have to do much except ensure that there is enough sycophantic media to lavish praise at it while market forces and bureaucracy stops us from doing our job.

Today, news sites can only exist and do well if they don’t actually cover the real news of governance and scandals that plague Malaysia. The authorities would be happier if we covered entertainment, gossip and travel shows. Anything else threatens their well-being and, in turn, the media’s well-being.

Reprinted from the Committee to Protect Journalists website, CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn W. Crispin is based Bangkok in where he has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 15 years.  

Sue M C Commission

March 2, 2016

Sue M C Commission

by Ista Kyra Sharmugam

The Malaysian Insider chief executive officer Jahabar Sadiq and four other journalists had their statements recorded at the Bukit Aman police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Friday over a report on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s operations review panel. – The Malaysian Insider pic, March 2, 2016.

The Malaysian Insider Chief Executive Officer Jahabar Sadiq and four other journalists had their statements recorded at the Bukit Aman Police Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur on Friday over a report on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s operations review panel. – The Malaysian Insider pic, March 2, 2016.

Websites blocked by the Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) without an official court order can challenge the ban with a judicial review, lawyers say in light of recent bans on blogs and a news portal.

This is since the main law used to regulate online content, the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA), does not allow the agency to block arbitrarily online content without first going to court.

They said MCMC must first prove in a court of law that a website had breached the CMA before it could be banned, said Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen.

“There was no due process as they just decided one fine day that they would block a legitimate online news site.MCMC is acting beyond its powers and behaving like the Prime Minister’s personal online bodyguard, protecting him from critical online news,” Paulsen said when contacted.

Another lawyer, H.R. Dipendra said the CMA was silent on whether MCMC has powers to block unilaterally websites. On February 25, access to The Malaysian Insider was blocked by government-linked telecommunication companies Unifi and Celcom on instruction by MCMC.

Access to the site was still available on the Maxis and DiGi networks until February 27 when all Malaysian telcos enforced the block. The agency claimed TMI breached Section 233 of the CMA which deals with the improper use of network facilities and services.

But Communications and Multimedia Minister Dato’ Seri Salleh Said Keruak later said TMI was blocked because it had “caused confusion” with its report quoting a source from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s operations review panel about investigations into Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak.

Even before the block on TMI, however, MCMC banned access to blogs, such as such as Syed Outside the Box, Tabunginsider, jingo-fotopages and Din Turtle late last month.

Other sites it has blocked are UK-based whistle-blower website Sarawak Report and local news and opinion aggregator Malaysian Chronicle. It has also blocked publishing platform Medium which carried an article by Sarawak Report on Najib.

Paulsen said sites affected by the ban could file a judicial review as the agency has acted beyond its powers.

“The only way is to challenge the decision in court through judicial review,” he said.

Another lawyer, Yusmadi Yusof, urged TMI to create a legal precedent by filing a judicial review.

“The Malaysian Insider should lead the way by doing so. This will give a chance for a correct interpretation of the law to be applied through the courts.”

Yusmadi said MCMC’s clampdown amounted to censorship and contradicted Putrajaya’s commitment to transparency when it signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

“They are joining TPPA as if they are ready to embrace international law, but this type of blocking on the Internet shows they are not ready for criticism or dissent and do not understand right to reply.It reflects a more authoritarian regime which is not going to fly in the future.”


Liberalism and Faith

November 6, 2015

Liberalism and Faith

by Rom

J Locke's QuoteFor many, ‘liberalism’ in what is often described as a ‘plural’ society like Malaysia has meant anything from John Locke’s belief in the individual’s right to life, liberty and property to the broader assertion that liberalism, as a political philosophy, ‘supports ideas and programmes such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, and democratic societies’.

But what is liberalism largely seen as in the context of contemporary Malaysia?From the way our political leaders, our religious pundits, some of our mainstream media, and even our education system have begun to put it, liberalism seems to have shifted from being seen as something neutral, desirable even, to something that is negative and not suitable for Malaysian society.

This is similar, I would say, to the way ‘democracy’ was criticised in the 1980s and 1990s as being an invention of the West, a tool meant to continue subjugating us to Western interests.

Philipp RoslerThen there’s this concept or assumption of a ‘plural society’. Despite the many valid scholarly critiques of this description of Malaysian society, it is one that still enjoys wide currency.

Pluralism implies equal, competing voices and centres, and a free market of ideas competing in a fair environment. This, for quite some time now, has become rather doubtful in Malaysia. Competing voices, ideas and practices there certainly may be, but it would be unwise, indeed delusional, for us to believe that they exist in a fair environment. In many, many cases, there is indeed no level playing field.

Take the media system in Malaysia, for example. Since the 1980s at least, there has been oligopolistic control over the mainstream media.

UMNO in PowerThe tentacles of the ruling parties, especially UMNO, are spread far and wide, ably aided by the virtually all-encompassing 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) and the increasingly (ab)used 1998 Communications and Multimedia Act.

And not to mention, of course, the Sedition Act.It used to be said, especially in the bad old days of the Internal Security Act, that there’s freedom of speech in Malaysia but NO freedom after speech.

But now, despite a short period of respite, it would seem that even such limited freedoms are being taken away by what appears to be a desperate regime that blocks news websites that provide crucial information, suspends publications that don’t toe the line, and detains respected, flea-bitten journalists for no valid reason, save to intimidate them and others.

It is also hardly a fair environment when we look at the education system – one that provides homogenised fare for the masses, arguably with the aim of dumbing our children down, rather than liberating their minds.

Then, of course, there’s the Judiciary, once reputed to be one of the finest and fiercely independent in the region if not the world, but now the less said about the better.

And when we locate what I would kindly call this ‘mess’ within the wider context of a political economy that is rife with practices that scream ‘inequality’, I think we would find it quite difficult to call ours a ‘plural society’.

Liberalism and whose faith? And whose version of that faith?

Recognising the lack of plurality in Malaysia allows us to ask a number of questions of the term ‘faith’. Is there plurality of faiths? If there isn’t, which faith dominates? Whose version of that faith dominates?

Does this dominance lead to a benign situation where other faiths are not only recognised and tolerated but, more importantly, seen as legitimate and respected?

If it doesn’t, is it the fault of the faith, the followers, and/or the keepers and ‘controllers’ of the faith? Knowing this non-plurality (or inequality of the position of different faiths) enables us to recognise power relations.

In this regard, let us address some of the main issues often raised about liberalism and faith in contemporary Malaysia.First, the myth of Malaysia being a liberal society. Two clear facts rubbish this myth – impediments to freedom of speech and inequality before the law.

Freedom of speech remains a myth when we have, among others, the PPPA, the Sedition Act, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota), PPPA, and now Section 124C of the Penal Code (`attempting to topple the government’).

Then, there’s the myth of equality before the law – opposition politicians, civil society members, dissidents, are even now hauled before the courts; civil servants have been ordered to remain silent, and, more recently, top civil servants have not only been silenced but also have been removed from office.

Hence, what currently exists in Malaysia is NOT the purported greater freedom that a liberal society provides, but the lack of a liberal environment.It is precisely this environment that is leading to greater polarisation and the construction of narrow ethno-religious silos.

This has led to a lack of exchange and interaction between different, aggrieved, indeed oppressed groups and communities.

Divide and rule is evidently still the mantra of the regime.

Within this environment, greater exchange, greater understanding – which can only come about through acknowledging and respecting each other – is needed.Not greater control (political, cultural, religious, ethnic).It is perhaps the only way forward if genuine liberation, genuine participation by all Malaysians is what is envisioned.It is freedom that is required, not control.

Is liberalism incompatible with faith and religion?

It is often asserted by some hard nosed quarters in Malaysia these days that liberalism is incompatible with their version of their religion.But surely it rt really depends on what one’s perception of one’s religion and its role in society is? For many it’s a choice between liberation, the freeing of human beings, on the one hand, and control.

Sure, there are grey areas in between. But right now, unless there is political will – which we see very little of among our ruling politicians and their apparatchiks in our religious organisations, our education system and, certainly, in our media – we appear to be drifting towards greater repression than liberation.

Faith and religion are being manipulated by this class of individuals to legitimise their control, to further their self-interests. In so doing, aware that liberalism, if not something more radical, would indeed challenge that hegemony, defy that control, those, certainly those dominating faith and religion in this country, will invariably disparage, deride liberalism – or indeed anything remotely questioning that control.

Bearing this in mind, I would like to leave it to a wise and, certainly, sad Malaysian, Philip Lok, former president of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, who wrote in The Malaysian Insider (September 16, 2015), in the aftermath of the red shirts rally of hate in Kuala Lumpur:

“But for me, there is nothing we can boast of, if my fellow Malaysians are living in fear of one another. There is nothing to celebrate if Malaysians are still differentiated by the colour of their race and the faith in their hearts. There is nothing to rejoice over, if freedom to live together as one ‘bangsa’ is still a distant dream.”

Congratulations, Malaysiakini

October 30, 2015

To my friends Premesh, Steven, Guna, and the men and women behind MalaysiakiniDin Merican@Rosler and Kinibiz, congratulations on this significant award from me in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. May it be Gold the next time.

Because of the Internet, I,  as a loyal subscriber and keen reader, am able to access your portals and as a result, I am up to speed on political, economic and social developments in our country. I thank you very much for this service, and urge to keep up your good work. Please try to challenge yourselves and explore ways and means to communicate better. Being in the news business, you know, as well as I do, that we cannot please everyone. But we must never fail to try to be balanced and fair.

Your portals and I have been identified as being pro-Opposition. Nothing is further from the truth than that. We may be critical but we are not pro any coalition or party and certainly not anti-government which is elected by Malaysians, irrespective of the flaws in our electoral system. Unfortunately, I have had a hard time to convince UMNO and BN supporters that I am not the “enemy”. I have not stop trying.

Since coming to Phnom Penh and being an academic at Cambodia’s top private university, I am conscious that my friends and associates here look at me as a Malaysian and judge me on how I conduct myself as a Malaysian and on the quality of my pedagogy and research work, although when they read my blog, they know that I have been critical of my country’s leadership and their policies. Stereo-typing is convenient, but never helpful.

We are going through difficult times, to put it mildly. But as an optimist, I am embracing myself for better times ahead, anchored in my belief that tough times do not last, but tough Malaysians do.  Lest we forget,  Malaysia is not just Najib and his henchmen in UMNO-BN. Malaysia is all of us. We must work together for a great future.–Din Merican

Congratulations, Malaysiakini

Independent news portal Malaysiakini has been hailed as one of the top brands in Malaysia at the 6th Putra Brand Awards (tonight). While Malaysiakini has won awards on two previous occasions, it is the first time the portal bagged the silver in the Media Network category.

It picked up the bronze award last year and at the inaugural Putra Brand Awards in 2010. Wayne Lim (photo, left), CEO of Malaysia SME, handed over the award to Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran at a gala dinner in Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

The other media outlets that won awards in the Media Network category were Astro, TV3, and Era (Gold); Hitz FM (Silver); and The Star, ntv7, and The Malaysian Insider (Bronze). Meanwhile, Maybank, Malaysia’s leading bank with the widest network, won the Putra Brand of The Year award.

According to the brand awareness award host, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As), the Putra Brand Awards is unique as Malaysian consumers themselves are the judges.

A consumer research polling system involving 6,000 people helped select Malaysia’s most preferred brands across a spectrum of 24 categories, with the top three brands in each category being honoured with a gold, silver, and bronze ranking.

This is the largest consumer research sampling of its kind nationwide, covering both East and West Malaysia.

We thank our subscribers, readers, advertisers, and most of all the Malaysiakini team, who work tirelessly to give the country the news and views that matter. “The awards reflect that the internet today is the mainstream, with two internet brands winning awards,” said Premesh (photo).

Malaysiakini, launched in 1999, is the country’s top news website.According to comScore, the portal has the highest number of visitors in the first half of this year, ahead of both Star Online and The Malaysian Insider. American-based comScore is a global leader in digital media analytics.

Malaysia : Investigate Corrupt Prime Minister, not punish the Fourth Estate

July 24, 2015


Malaysia : Investigate Corrupt Prime Minister, not punish the Fourth Estate

by Malaysiakini

Gan and ChandranSteven Gan and Premesh Chandran–The Malaysiakini Dynamic Duo

The media as the Fourth Estate serves as an indispensable pillar in a democratic nation. It has the sacrosanct task of monitoring those in the seat of power to ensure that the people and their rights are safeguarded. To use a draconian legislation to silence or punish the media is an act that is detrimental to parliamentary democracy and press freedom.

October 1987

That was the last time a major mainstream newspaper was shut down for publishing dissenting views. The Star – labelled as ‘Suara Tunku Abdul Rahman’ by certain pro-government forces – was among the dailies suspended as part of Operation Lallang in a bid to silence detractors of then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Over 100 activists, politicians and intellectuals were incarcerated without trial.

Now, twenty-eight years later, The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily – both part of The Edge Media Group – have been suspended for three months. This comes hot on the heels of the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission blocking access to whistleblower website Sarawak Report.

Mahathir is now raising the alarm on the alleged wrongdoings of the country’s top man. But Najib Abdul Razak would probably laugh it off while inviting the former Premier to take a good look at himself in the mirror.

Ironically, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is now Barisan Nasional Strategic Communications Director, had criticised DAP statesman Lim Kit Siang for “shooting the messenger”. Perhaps Abdul Rahman should also school Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on this. Alas, we have to live with such ironies under the 1Malaysian sky.

The suspension today of The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily by the Home Ministry is an outrage, unwarranted and unjustifiable. It is a case of punishing the messengers rather than the criminals.

At the heart of the attack against The Edge and Sarawak Report is the matter of whether their reporting on the 1MDB scandal is true or false. If based on the evidence they have, public funds have indeed been siphoned away to serve private and political interests.

If indeed these media companies had fabricated evidence in a bid to topple an elected government, they can be charged with publishing false news. The matter would then go to court, where surely 1MDB, banks and the parties involved can produce conclusive evidence of fabrication.

The Edge has handed over all the documents it obtained from former PetroSaudi International executive Xavier Andre Justo to the authorities.  Till today, neither 1MDB nor the government is able to back up their claims of tampering, nor have the authorities charged The Edge with any other offence.

Rosmah Exposed by Sarawak Report
For a leadership that has nothing to hide, silencing the media does nothing for its credibility. Instead, this suspension sends an indelible message to Malaysians that the government has indeed something big to hide.

Malaysiakini calls on the government to immediately lift the suspension of The Edge and the blocking of Sarawak Report. It must allow the media to do its job to hold power to account.