Malaysia: Police bring a new case against reporter Tashny Sukumaran

South China Morning Post correspondent Tashny Sukumaran, who was questioned in May 2020 over her social media posts, has been summoned again for her contribution to the recently banned book, Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance and Hope in New Malaysia. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the continued crackdown on journalists and calls on authorities to stop the harassment of journalists and publishers for journalistic work in the public interest.

Cover of the book "Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance and Hope in New Malaysia". Credit: IFJ

Although police dropped the initial case against Sukumaran for her social media posts on the arrest of migrant workers during Covid-19 testing, on July 1 she was summoned again for her part in the banned book. Sukumaran is one of the contributors of the book that features articles from political analysts and journalists on the 2018 general election and new chapters on life in the 'new' Malaysia. The collection of articles was compiled by Malaysian journalist and academic, Kean Wong, for the Australian National University’s New Mandala Malaysia series.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin issued an order of banning the book on July 1 under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) Order 2020. The sudden banning, the first book banning under the Order, relates to the book’s cover that is alleged to resemble the national coat of arms.

The police raidedRebirth’s publishing company, Gerak Budaya. Gerak Budaya’s director and founder Chong Ton Sin apologised for the cover and said that there was no intention to insult the state crest. The graphic artist behind the book’s cover has also been questioned. The East Malaysian artist created the design in 2014, with her vision to depict a more equal Malaysia.

Several politicians, including Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, have urged the Home Ministry to punish anyone involved in book’s publication. The IFJ understands that authorities have summoned a number of other contributors including Malaysiakini journalists.   

Civil rights group Lawyers for Liberty has issued a statement decrying the controversy as a manufactured attempt to deter citizens from exercising their freedom of speech.

The IFJ said: “While Tashny’s initial case was rightly dropped, the IFJ is concerned by new moves to stifle the voice of journalists and media experts. The archaic act of banning books and summoning contributors is a deeply worrying development in a democratic country. The IFJ urges Malaysian authorities to stop intimidating and harassing journalists, artists and publishers.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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