Religious Intolerance and Extreme Censorship
The Internal Security Ministry torn off pages of an article from the Economist’s 23 December 2006 issue entitled “Born of Fire”, about Muslim in Afghanistan and Somalia believing in the existence of genies, or jinns. It also blackout a paragraph in the article “A child in Bethlehem”, which reported that Muslim women visit an ancient shrine to the Virgin Mary to pray for fertility. The Economist is published by the Economist Newspaper Limited in Britain.
When contacted by CIJ, a spokesperson from the ministry said the practices in the article contravene Islamic teachings. “Muslims cannot believe in Jinns as this goes against Islam,” he said.
The censorship of this publication deprives the public of information about the practices and cultures of people outside Malaysia. Rather than discouraging people from discovering about the traditions of others, Muslim or Christian, the Government should encourage the quest for knowledge, in a spirit of encouraging tolerance and understanding.
Moreover, censorship of publications that are openly available online can only help to deepen the digital divide. Urban-based individuals with Internet access readily available will be able to acquire information denied to subscribers or readers who do not have Internet access or the skills to navigate the Internet.
We urge the government to stop banning and censoring publications and to repeal the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. The Government should also consider setting up a Select Committee on Communication Rights, to examine legislative change for a more open and transparent communication regime in Malaysia, conforming to international human rights standards.
2. The banning of books is a serious violation of freedom of expression. It should not be done at all, and never done lightly. It is thus distressing that the Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow implies that book bannings can be reversed or re-considered if there are complaints from distributors or importers. This implies firstly a lax attitude towards the banning of books, and second it puts the onus for action on book distributors, whereas the responsibility should lie with the Ministry to ensure that no frivolous bannings occur.
CIJ has learnt from local sources that Datuk Fu has responded to media coverage of banned or restricted books by saying that the Ministry has not received complaints about book banning from distributors. He further said that a meeting will be held with the distributors to discuss how the process of banning books can be made more transparent. While CIJ applauds the move to engage in consultation and improve openness within the Ministry, the underlying assumption that books must be banned is disconcerting.
It is also worrying that the Ministry is looking at making the banning process more streamlined, rather than reconsidering whether book banning is important, effective or consistent with Malaysia’s aim of achieving Vision 2020 within the next decade and a half. When books are banned, ideas are removed from circulation. This stunts the ability of our students, academics and general public from dealing with controversial ideas, and assumes a paternalistic attitude that is not suited to a country with a high standard of educational achievement.
The Centre for Independent Journalism has, further, consistently condemned the banning of books, and with a group of over 100 individuals and 10 organizations had called for a repeal of the ban of 18 books banned in June 2006. The organization reiterates the call for an end to the banning of books and a repeal of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a media organization that aims to improve current Malaysian journalism practice and independence through advocacy, research and analysis, training and practical work. Started in 2001, CIJ has initiated various projects in developing grassroots communications skills through training, infrastructural support and direct action.
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