Veteran MP Lim Kit Siang has called on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to honour Maria Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize by pledging that no Malaysian journalist would be harassed, intimidated or penalised for carrying out journalistic duties to safeguard freedom of expression.
“Congratulations to Maria Ressa for the Nobel Peace Prize, sharing it with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to ‘safeguard freedom of expression’.
“As she said, the Nobel Peace Prize was for ‘all journalists around the world’ as she vowed to continue her battle for press freedom.
“I call on the prime minister to honour an Asean journalist for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize award by pledging that no Malaysian journalist would be harassed, intimidated or penalised for carrying out the journalistic duties to safeguard freedom of expression in Malaysia, especially as this is one of the fundamental liberties entrenched in the Malaysian Constitution," said the Iskandar Puteri MP in a statement today.
He said that Ressa’s Nobel Peace Prize should not only be an inspiration to all Malaysian journalists but to all Malaysians on the importance of human rights to realise the human aspirations of justice, freedom and equality for all.
A journalist for 35 years, Ressa launched the Rappler site after working for CNN as bureau chief in Manila and Jakarta, and then becoming the US broadcaster’s lead investigative reporter in Southeast Asia, focusing on regional conflicts including an insurgency in the southern Philippines.
Rappler has grown prominent through investigative reporting, including into mass killings during a police campaign against drugs masterminded by President Rodrigo Duterte, who has labelled the site a “fake news outlet” and a tool of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Ressa is currently free on bail as she appeals a six-year prison sentence handed down last year for a libel conviction, a case she believes to be politically motivated.
Regressing press freedom
Malaysia, which saw some liberalisation of press freedom under the Pakatan Harapan administration, experienced backsliding under the Muhyiddin Yassin regime.
Earlier this year, Reporters Without Borders annual press freedom index report, showed that Malaysia’s press freedom index is now down 18 places at 119 (out of 180 countries ranked). For context, Malaysia’s best ranking was just one year ago in 2020 (101st place).
In one blow to the freedom of expression, Malaysiakini was fined RM500,000 by the Federal Court in February for contempt of court over readers’ comments on its article about Malaysian courts reopening after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Journalists from several media outlets, including Malaysiakini, were also investigated for their critical reporting on issues such as custodial deaths, while repressive laws are still being used against the media and journalists.
These laws include Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia (CMA) Act 1998, the Sedition Act 1948, Sections 504 and 505 of the Penal Code and the Printing Presses and Publications (PPPA) Act 1984. Other laws include Section 203A of the Penal Code and Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950.