Malaysia yesterday suspended for three months the publishing permits of two business newspapers owned by The Edge Media Group - the second media outlet to be targeted by the government this week as it tries to tamp down critical reports about alleged wrongdoings at state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), whose financial woes have shaken Prime Minister Najib Razak's leadership.
The Home Ministry is suspending permits for The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily - which have a total staff strength of 350 - from next Monday, after blocking the Sarawak Report news website last Monday.
According to the Edge group, the Home Ministry said in its letter that the publications were judged to be "prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion, or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest".
The move cast a chill among journalists as they wondered whether a wider crackdown on the media and government dissenters who wrote or spoke about 1MDB is coming.
CHILL IN MEDIA CIRCLES
As fellow journalists, we are concerned that The Edge has been suspended. The Star went through a similar experience in 1987, when we were closed down for five months... In the age of online news and social media, it is difficult to see how the suspension of The Edge will be effective.
MS LEANNE GOH, The Star newspaper's editor-in-chief
The authorities in the meantime detained a third man yesterday who has been linked to 1MDB in the ongoing probe.
And the central bank published a poster with pictures of two executives whom it wants to question. They are believed to be linked to businessman Low Taek Jho, who helped set up 1MDB in 2009.
The authorities had on Wednesday interviewed the publisher of The Edge, Datuk Ho Kay Tat.
They also ordered a travel ban on eight opposition politicians and opposition activists, saying that these individuals need to be questioned in the probe over the state investment fund.
Mr Ho said in his response to the ministry's suspension notice: "We don't see how exposing the scam to cheat the people of Malaysia of billions of ringgit can be construed as being detrimental to public and national interest.
"This is nothing more than a move to shut us down in order to shut us up."
Mr Ho said the group would go to court and try to get the suspension lifted. He said the group's publications would continue to be available online.
The Star's editor-in-chief, Ms Leanne Goh, said she was concerned about what had happened.
"As fellow journalists, we are concerned that The Edge has been suspended," she told The Straits Times.
"The Star went through a similar experience in 1987, when we were closed down for five months."
The Star - currently Malaysia's largest English daily - was shut down for five months in 1987, together with Sin Chew Jit Poh and Watan newspapers, amid mounting racial tensions.
"In the age of online news and social media, it is difficult to see how the suspension of The Edge will be effective," added Ms Goh.
The latest move came a day after the country's media watchdog - the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission - held a briefing with online media editors, during which it warned them that publishing articles from the Sarawak Report is banned because the 1MDB issue is currently under investigation.
Well, one Malaysia blogger at least said he would not be cowed by government pressure.
"There is a clampdown against the media, but I will keep writing about 1MDB," former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters yesterday.