The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns a decision by Malaysian newspaper Utusan Malaysia to find journalist and union leader Ha’ta Wahari guilty of accusations of “tarnishing the image” of the paper.
In a hearing on April 14 that lasted only 15 minutes, a domestic inquiry by the paper’s management deemed Wahari “guilty” of eight accusations against him.
Wahari, an employee of the paper and president of IFJ affiliate the National Union of Journalists of Malaysia (NUJM), was also found “guilty” of revealing the “company secrets” of his employer, which is owned by UMNO, the dominant political party in Malaysia’s ruling coalition.
The accusations relate to comments Wahari made in the Malaysian media criticising the ethics and partisan coverage of Utusan in September and October last year. He also criticised the paper for fuelling racial tensions in an address made in his capacity as NUJM president on January 1.
The paper’smanagement will decide on Wahari’s punishment in the next two weeks. He has been suspended since January 11, five days after the inquiry began on January 6.
“This is clearly a politically motivated attack on the part of the management of Utusan and must be condemned as a further erosion of press freedom and free expression in Malaysia,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“The message is clear for reporters and freedom of expression activists in Malaysia – to challenge the status quo is perilous.”
Local media reports say Wahari and NUJM general secretary V. Anbalagan are preparing “for the worst” and will appeal Utusan’s decision in Malaysia’s industrial court if he is dismissed.
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