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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 13:39 GMT
Malaysian press curbs under attack
Demonstrators with banner: 'God Save Harakah'
Demonstrators with the banner: 'God Save Harakah'
An international human rights group has called on the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, to relax government restrictions on the main opposition newspaper.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote to Dr Mahatir late on Thursday saying that the restrictions were "the latest example of your administration's efforts to curb the opposition press".

The Malaysian Government on Wednesday said the bi-weekly Harakah newspaper would be allowed to publish only two editions a month, instead of two a week.


The CPJ called on Dr Mahathir to reverse this decision, and to end a "campaign of intimidation and harassment" against the Harakah.

Another media pressure group, Reporters Sans Frontieres, said in a letter to Home Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the change "looked like censorship".

The government's action has prompted protests around the country.

Opposition supporters held a rally outside the national mosque in Kuala Lumpur where they unveiled a banner reading, "God Save Harakah".

There was also a demonstration in Dr Mahathir's home state of Kedah.

Internet confusion

The government has given conflicting signals about how often Harakah may publish news on its internet site under the new restrictions.

On Thursday, Deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung said Harakah's permit would be revoked if it updated its internet version more than twice a month.

Dr Mahathir: no internet censorship
Dr Mahathir: No internet censorship
But on Friday Mr Chor denied threatening any curbs on the internet edition.

Dr Mahathir is promoting a 'Multimedia Super Corridor' in Malaysia and has promised not to censor the internet.

He has described information technology as the key to national development.

In its letter CPJ also called on Dr Mahathir to drop sedition charges brought in January against Harakah's editor and publisher in connection with its coverage of the trial of the ex-deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

CPJ's Malaysian sources believe that the crackdown on Harakah is a response to the paper's growing popularity

Committee to Protect Journalists
Harakah is the paper of the Islamic party, Parti Islam SeMalaysia, which made strong gains against the ruling party in November's general election, tripling its share of parliamentary seats to 27.

Its sales soared as Dr Mahathir's popularity sank, following the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998.

The CPJ wrote: "CPJ's Malaysian sources believe that the crackdown on Harakah is a response to the paper's growing popularity."

The pressure group last year named Dr Mahathir one of the top 10 "enemies of the press" worldwide.
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See also:

01 Mar 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Malaysia curbs opposition paper
12 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Opposition figures arrested in Malaysia
10 Nov 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Malaysia's strongman Mahathir
13 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Fifth opposition arrest in Malaysia
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