KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – The Malaysian government’s crackdown on the media and dissenters widened on Friday (July 24), as the Home Ministry suspended the publishing permits of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months over their reporting of the alleged 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) graft scandal.
The Edge Media Group, which has a staff of around 350 people in Malaysia, has been reporting extensively on allegations related to mismanagement and corruption in the troubled state investment fund 1MDB.
Earlier this week, the authorities blocked access to a website critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government and two opposition lawmakers were issued travel bans in connection with investigations into 1MDB.
1MDB, with debts of over US$11 billion (S$15 billion), is being investigated by the authorities in Malaysia for financial mismanagement and graft. The state-owned firm’s advisory board is chaired by the prime minister.
The Edge Media Group said in a statement on Friday that the ministry issued a notice that claimed the two publications’ reporting of 1MDB was “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 publications will be suspended for three months from July 27. “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,” said The Edge Media Group publisher and CEO Ho Kay Tat. “This is nothing more than a move to shut us down in order to shut us up.”
On Monday, the government blocked access to the Sarawak Report website, saying the British-based news portal had violated a local Internet law in a move condemned by opposition lawmakers.
Ho said The Edge will go to court to try to get the suspension lifted. The media group’s website would continue to be active, he said. Other digital options to deliver the news would be explored, he said, according to The Star.
"To our advertisers, we hope you will continue to support us through our digital platforms now that the print will not be available for three months," he said.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported earlier this month that investigators looking into 1MDB had traced close to US$700 million of deposits into personal bank accounts belonging to Datuk Seri Najib, according to documents from the probe.
Reuters has not verified the WSJ report.
PM Najib has denied taking any money for personal gain and said the corruption allegations are part of a malicious campaign to force him out of office. He is weighing legal options against the WSJ.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a Malaysia-based non-profit group, condemned the suspension of the publications. “For the government to censor a newspaper in this manner is an extremely heavy-handed measure and a breach of freedom of expression and media freedom in particular,” it said in a statement.
Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, writing in the Journal on Friday, said despite Najib’s promises of reform and pledges to allow the voices of dissent to be heard, the prime minister “has doubled down on political repression”.
Anwar, who led a coalition against the powerful ruling Barisan Nasional alliance, was jailed in February on sodomy charges that he says was a politically motivated attempt to end his career.
Najib’s government has been under pressure from the opposition, and also from influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, to explain allegations of graft in 1MDB that were raised by the media.