Malaysian official calls for harsher penalties for whistle blowers

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia (NUJM) in strongly criticising the proposed changes to the Official Secrets Act (1972) (OSA) by the Malaysian Attorney General. The IFJ and NUJM call on the Malaysian government to guarantee the rights of journalists to protect sources without fear of reprimand.

In an interview on February 6, Malaysian Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohd Apandi Ali announced that he was proposing an amendment the OSA to seek harsher punishment against whistle-blowers who leak official secrets. The proposed changes would expand the scope of the law to include journalists. According to reports, the increased punishments would include life imprisonment and 10 strokes of the rotan. 

During an interview with Sin Chew Daily, the Attorney-General said: “"We may charge journalists who refuse to reveal their sources. I am not joking. If I have 90 percent of evidence, I will charge the journalist, editor, assistant editor and editor-in-chief. I am serious, no kidding. We have too many leakages of secrets in Malaysia. The right to know is not granted by the constitution."

Under the OSA an official secret is any information, document or material that may be classified as ‘top secret’, ‘secret’, ‘confidential’ or ‘restricted’ by ministers or public officials. The current punishment for those found guilty of leaking information is a one year imprisonment.

NUJM strongly criticized the proposed amendments to the Act, labelling them ‘cruel and undemocratic. Schave de Rozario, NUJM general secretary said: “Although we are merely reporting, we fear the news could be based on leaked information and everyone knows the powers the AG wields now, which he has displayed recently.”

The IFJ said: “The proposed amendments to the OSA are a violation of journalist ethics of protecting one’s source, further weakening the ability of journalists and media workers to do their job in an ethical and legal manner. We join the NUJM is demanding the Malaysian government immediately guarantee the right to know in Malaysia."

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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