: Three media-related NGOs today condemn the police's action in detaining five media personnel over a report published in news portal The Malaysian Insider
(TMI) titled "Council of Rulers opposes amendments needed to enforce hudud".
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) felt that even though the police has the right to question anyone through complaints made by certain groups, the Sedition Act 1948 had been wrongly applied on the editors' case.
"The editors were merely doing their job as journalists. This action does not augur well for the Government’s promise to allow the Malaysian media to operate freely and without fear of their reporters being detained under questionable reasoning.
"NUJ believes all journalists have the right to share insights into cases with the public's interest at hand, to convey public opinion and that the reporter reports not of their own comments," it said in a statement.
The group further calls for the immediate released of the five -- TMI managing editor Lionel Morais, Malay section editor Amin Shah Iskandar, features and analysis editor Zulkifli Sulong, CEO Jahabar Sadiq and The Edge Publisher Ho Kay Tat. READ: TMI chief executive and The Edge publisher arrested for sedition
The Institute of Journalists Malaysia (IoJ) said If the report was inaccurate, the convention would be for the Conference of Rulers to issue a statement correcting it and for TMI to make an apology or to retract the article.
To arrest and to seek the remand of the journalists over the report under the Sedition Act and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, however, is a grossly disproportionate response to the report's contents and tone, and an arbitrary use of the law.
"The IoJ notes the report does not mention if TMI had approached the Conference of Rulers for verification. Journalistic diligence is required in reporting so that none is unfairly brought into public disrepute.
"But the IoJ understands that TMI would have welcomed the opportunity to publicly account for it," it said in a statement.
As for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia (FCCM), the group noted that police have a role to play in investigations should there be any question of law.
"We in no way vouch for the veracity of the article and welcome all stakeholders to hold journalists up to good ethical standards.
"However, if the authorities were cracking down on merely 'bad' reporting as opposed to alleged sedition, then it is sufficient to call on all witnesses and suspects to record their statements as there is no good reason to arrest and detain them overnight, much less to remand them for several more days," FCCM said in a statement.
Yesterday, Morais, Amin Shah and Zulkifli were taken to the Dang Wangi police station after being arrested over the TMI's March 25 report. But the magistrate's court this morning denied the application to remand them and they are expected to be freed later today. READ: Remand application for TMI editors rejected, trio to be freed today
The trio were being investigated under Section 4 of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
As for Jahabar and Ho, they were arrested this morning and are currently still being detained.
The March 25 report "Council of Rulers opposes amendments needed to enforce hudud" claims that the Conference of Rulers had rejected an amendment to the federal law for hudud to be implemented in Kelantan.
However, the next day, the Conference of Rulers denied the report, saying the news was false, and lodged a police report on the matter.
Reports were also lodged by UMNO Youth -- one by its chief Khairy Jamaluddin and another by Kedah Youth chief Saiful Hazizy Zainol Abidin -- with the police as well as the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).
An investigation by the commission and the police followed suit.