NGOs and MPs say demand for apology and removal of articles, and threat of RM10mil lawsuit, is an attack on press freedom.
PETALING JAYA: Several parties have criticised Gombak police chief Arifai Tarawe for threatening to sue Free Malaysia Today for RM10 million if the media outlet does not apologise and retract two articles he claims are libellous and have tarnished his image.
He said the articles in question wrongly gave the impression that he and the police were responsible for the custodial death of A Ganapathy.
A spokesperson for Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances told FMT it was important for the media to represent public opinion and sentiment on such issues.
“Over the past decade, there have been dozens of deaths in police custody, and many judges have found the police responsible for many of the deaths.
“Yet we can count on one hand the number of cops who have been punished for their involvement.”
Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said media freedom was a key measure of a country’s democracy, and said attempts to censor information would impede the ability of the public to make clear judgments on important issues.
“Journalists help to bring news to us that touches on our concerns about how the government operates, and raise issues which we can discuss in the public domain.
“Such threats from a senior police officer against the media should not happen as it can be seen as an attempt to quash media freedom. Seemingly, nuanced efforts are used to choke independence of the press through defamation lawsuits which come with payment of heavy damages and the use of draconian laws.”
She called on Arifai to immediately drop the legal action against FMT, and for the harassment of Malaysia’s media to come to an end.
This was echoed by Seputeh MP Teresa Kok who asked whether the police’s priorities were in the right place, as the issue of Ganapathy’s death was a more pressing matter.
“Logically and naturally the (Gombak police chief) ought to direct all focus and efforts on allaying accusations and allegations against the police force.
“I wonder whether the new IGP supports the action of one of his officers? Is this the harbinger of a tighter chokehold on press freedom during his tenure?”
Senior lawyer Bala Mahesan said the consistent legal threats against the media was “becoming a joke”.
“As a senior police officer, he should keep quiet, lodge a police report and let the police investigate,” he said of Arifai’s accusations against the media outlet.