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Wednesday, 3 May, 2000, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Malaysian paper sues government
High Court/Kuala Lumpur
Harakah is taking the Government to the High Court
Malaysia's main opposition newspaper is marking World Press Freedom Day by suing the Government over restrictions it says stifle the democratic process.

Harakah, the official newspaper of the opposition Islamic Party (PAS), is challenging a government order imposed in March which has dramatically limited its sales.

The paper's editor, Zulkifli Sulong, said a suit had been filed against the Home Ministry over its decision to limit the paper to only two issues a month instead of eight.

Mahathir Mohamad
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad backs the press curbs

According to the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is for the second year running one of the world's 10 worst enemies of the press.

The committee, which monitors press freedoms worldwide, says the last year has seen Dr Mahathir tighten the screws on his country's small opposition press.

Sedition charge

We cannot but conclude that the minister's action was politically motivated

Harakah's managing editor Hishamudin Yahya

Mr Zulkifli and Harakah's printer were arrested in January and charged with sedition over an article about the trial of the jailed opposition leader and former Finance Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

Harakah's circulation had remained among the highest in the country, despite the curbs, and the paper's internet site was receiving two million hits a month, he said.

Opposition parties say their publications remain popular because of what they call the sagging credibility of the mainstream media, most of which is owned or controlled by Dr Mahathir's governing coalition.

Last year, 600 Malaysian journalists signed a petition calling on the government to repeal laws limiting press freedom, but no action was taken.


Anwar Ibrahim
Harakah's sales grew after Anwar Ibrahim's arrest

Harakah's sales grew after Anwar Ibrahim was sacked and arrested, and they soared ahead of last November's general elections.

PAS - Parti Islam SeMalaysia - tripled its seats in parliament in the elections and wrested a second state from the ruling coalition.

The newspaper, viewed by many as an alternative to the government-controlled mainstream media, had a circulation of 500,000 before the limits on publication were imposed.

It currently has a circulation of about 270,000.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had backed the limits on Harakah, saying the paper deserved to be punished for failing to abide by conditions under its annual permit that bar sales to non-PAS members.

But Mr Hishamudin said Harakah had no control over sales by vendors and should not be punished.

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See also:

03 May 00 | Americas
Top ten 'press enemies' named
03 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian press curbs under attack
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
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