Malaysia bans weekly newspaper, rights group says

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 8 (AFP) - The Malaysian government has banned a weekly newspaper which specialises in reporting political issues, a rights group said Friday.

The Aliran rights group said the Home Ministry's ban on the Malay-language tabloid Eksklusif (Exclusive) "perhaps reflects the government's contempt of the very notion of press freedom."

The Malaysiakini online newspaper also reported the ban and quoted a ministry official as saying the action was taken on the grounds of "imbalanced reporting."

No one at the ministry or from Eksklusif was immediately available for comment. The ministry has acted against other publications seen as pro-opposition in the past but denies any political motive.

Malaysiakini quoted Tengku Mahmood Tengku Ismail, head of the ministry's publications unit, as saying Eksklusif's permit, which expired in April, was not renewed because of "imbalanced reporting" and non-compliance with various regulations.

He said the ministry would consider the paper's application if it sought a permit next year.

Malaysiakini said Eksklusif had suspended publication from April 15 when its permit was not renewed. Since then it had reportedly appealed three times for a new permit but had been rejected.

The online paper said Eksklusif hit a peak circulation of 100,000 before its permit expired.

Malaysiakini said the youth magazine Al-Wasilah also had its permit cancelled last month.

It added: "It is believed that the ban on the monthly teen magazine is due to its political coverage which has an opposition slant."

Aliran said the ban on Eksklusif and other publications "has reinforced public perceptions that the government is determined to clamp down on publications that are seen to be critical, investigative and independent."

If Eksklusif were banned for unbalanced reporting, the rights group said, the same sanction should apply to mainstream newspapers which were guilty of one-sided reporting.

The home ministry, which has sweeping powers over the press under the licensing system, earlier this year closed down another publication, Detik, seen as critical of the government.

In March it severely curbed circulation of the newspaper of the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia. Harakah's publishing permit was renewed for only two issues a month instead of two a week as previously.

Harakah's editor Zulkifli Sulong is currently on trial for sedition, punishable by up to three years' jail, for an article on the trial of ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists in May named Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as one of the world's top ten enemies of the press.