It's just old-fashioned state repression, says Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia.
“Banning books is nothing short of cowardly. Malaysians are capable of discussing issues of the day without the government telling them what they can or cannot read,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division
On Wednesday, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein banned the book, saying it was“prejudicial to morality and public order”.
The Home Minister has absolute discretion to ban the book under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
The ministry had acted based on a report by Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which found that the book contained “elements which could confuse the public and against the syariah as stated in the Quran and Hadith”.
The offices of ZI Publications, which published the Malay edition of the book, was raided by the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) with a warrant from the Syariah Court.
JAIS seized about 180 copies and took ZI Publications’ managing director Ezra Zaid to JAIS headquarters in Shah Alam on the same day the book was banned. He was released on RM1,800 bail.
Pearson said the government should respect the right to free expression and immediately reverse its ban.
“Malaysian authorities say they are protecting morality by banning Manji’s book, but this is just old-fashioned state repression,” she said.
She added that Malaysia would be in a better position to seek a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council “once it starts permitting Malaysians the right to seek information and to hold opinions without interference”.