KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 ― The police needs to justify the use of a “severe” law to investigate Malaysiakini for allegedly trying to undermine parliamentary democracy by receiving foreign funds, journalist groups have said.
Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm) spokesman Radzi Razak said Section 124C of the Penal Code ― which comes with a hefty punishment of a mandatory jail term that can go up to 15 years ― was a severe law that cannot be used without clear justification.
“The issue on Malaysiakini’s funding has been raised for years and this newest allegation was addressed by the operators of the news portal as well.
“The police will have to let the public know why they use this Section as it is a matter of public interest,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
He claimed the use of such a severe law without clear justification could imply that there was involvement of political play in the investigation process, adding that it would affect the image of law and order here and ultimately see journalism and democracy in the country becoming the “clear-cut loser”.
“Never shoot the messenger,” he said.
Yesterday, both the police and Malaysiakini confirmed the news portal was being investigated under Section 124C, which prohibits attempts to commit activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.
The phrase “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” is defined in Article 130A of the Penal Code as activities “designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional means”. The Penal Code does not explain the meaning of the term “parliamentary democracy”.
The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) described Section 124C as an “anti-terrorism” law, likely alluding to the offence’s links to the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).
“The use of anti-terrorism laws against a media company sets a disturbing precedent, and is a heavy handed method that can be seen as an attempt to silence dissent,” it said in a statement yesterday.
Sosma, which is primarily meant to deal with terrorism threats and allows for detention without trial, is applicable to a list of security offences such as Section 124C.
IoJ also condemned Red Shirts leader Datuk Jamal Md Yunos’ plans to stage a protest outside Malaysiakini’s office this afternoon, despite the news outlet having already explained how it obtains its funding.
“In particular, his statement that he would ‘ensure that part of this building will collapse’ can be clearly interpreted as a threat and a form of intimidation against Malaysiakini.
“Journalists must be allowed to do their work without facing threats, acts of violence or intimidation,” it said.
IoJ also stressed that receiving foreign funding cannot be construed as a wrongdoing and added that making such speculations was unfair.
The National Union Of Journalists Malaysia (NUJ) also strongly condemned Jamal over his threats to hold a mass protest and ensure that part of Malaysiakini’s office building is torn down today if Malaysiakini did not provide an explanation by noon on the foreign funding.
“We urge the police to conduct an investigation over the matter promptly. The Red Shirt leader Datuk Jamal Md Yunos’ recent statement does fall under criminal intimidation under (Section) 503 of the Penal Code,” the NUJ executive council said in a statement yesterday.
“NUJ Malaysia is appalled to hear of this threat especially in a democratic country like ours. The laws of this country clearly states that no one, group or organisation can take the law into their own hands, especially towards media practitioners who are held by the code of ethics for journalists,” it said.
Malaysiakini is being probed over allegations that they were part of a list of Malaysian entities that had received funding from US billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundations (OSF).
Malaysiakini has confirmed that it received an OSF grant which it used to produce the “Realiti Sarawak” and “Sekilas Bumi Kenyalang” programmes under its video arm, KiniTV, but said it only constituted a small portion of its revenue and that its funding comes from subscribers, advertisements and donors.
OSF has said that claims that it funded attempts to overthrow the Malaysian government is false, insisting that the money it provides to Malaysian civil society is to “support democratic practice”.