Malaysia's home ministry book bans archaic: think tank

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Home Ministry is continuing the archaic tradition of policing language, sex and religion by banning books in the internet age, according to a recent report by the Penang Institute.

The think tank's report titled "The Policing and Politics of the Malay Language", which was released on Oct 10, states that the ministry had banned 1,695 books from 1971 to this year, reported the Malay Mail Online. They included 556 Malay books, 516 books in English and 450 in Chinese.

Analyst Ooi Kok Hin noted that a Malay translation of evolution theorist Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species had been banned, but not its original version in English.

Most of the banned Malay books were on topics related to sex and pornography.

According to the report, the highest number of book bans were recorded in 1992, at 148 books, and 1994, when 149 books were taken off the shelves. Books on sex topped the 1992 blacklist at 82, while in 1994, 97 religious and political books were banned.

According to the Malay Mail, former prime minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad was also home minister from May 1986 to January 1999.

The report stated that the use of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) by the Home Ministry to blacklist publications did not reflect positively, especially in the current era where much information is readily available on the internet and in all languages.

"It is also crucial to ask whether it is realistic for the Home Ministry to conduct language policing and book banning in this day and age," Mr Ooi said in his concluding remarks.

He said that banning books or certain titles would only draw public attention to them and that online versions of these books meant they could be downloaded.

"Unless the Home Ministry is planning to be on constant look out for other book versions and translations, it is safe to conclude that the book ban is not only ineffective, but also counter-productive," he added.

The Home Ministry has come under fire from free speech advocates and civil society groups after its recent ban on a number of books on Islam. These include texts which promote religious moderation, such as the book Islam Without Extremes by prominent US-based Turkish author and journalist Mustafa Akyol.

A collection of essays published by Malaysian pro-moderation group G25, titled Breaking the Silence: Voices of a Moderation: Islam in a Constitutional Democracy was banned in July for allegedly being a threat to public order.