(Mar. 30, 2009) It was reported on March 23, 2009, that the Malaysian government has banned the publication of two major opposition newspapers, HARAKAH and SUARA KEADILAN, one week ahead of the appointment of a “new and controversial prime minister, Najib Razak, and two weeks before important by-elections.” (Malaysian Opposition Media Banned, BBC NEWS, Mar. 23, 2009, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7959518.stm.) The ban, which was in force immediately upon being announced in a letter from the Home Ministry to the head of SUARA KEADILAN, is to remain in effect for three months. Tian Chua, a spokesman for SUARA KEADILAN, indicated that “no reason for the ban had been given, adding that the newspapers would defy it despite the threat of legal action.” (Id.) The two papers are published by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and the People's Justice Party, respectively. The two parties are part of a three-party alliance “that has made major inroads against the ruling National Front coalition in the past year.” (Id.)
Not long before the ban, on March 10, 2009, in another anti-free press measure said to be related to the upcoming elections, it was reported that the government had re-imposed a prohibition against the use of the word “Allah” in Bibles and in Malay-language Christian newspapers and religious texts. The ban reflects a retraction of a decree that had been issued by the Home Ministry in mid-February 2009 that would have allowed the HERALD, run by Roman Catholics, to use the word in its Malay edition, provided it met certain conditions. According to Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, “the government had made a mistake in enacting the decree allowing the word to be used and … the matter should be decided in the courts”; the HERALD has a court petition now pending. (Malaysia Imposes New Ban on Use of 'Allah' by Non-Muslims, ECUMENICAL NEWS INTERNATIONAL, Mar. 10, 2009, available at http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/8910.) The new ban was to be issued in the government gazette during the week of March 10, the STAR newspaper was quoted as stating. The government actions may reflect its concern that Muslim groups that disapprove of non-Muslims using “Allah” in their religious texts will show their dissatisfaction in upcoming special or by-elections, to be held on April 7. (Id.; By-Elections 2009, MY SINCHEW, http://www.mysinchew.com/taxonomy/term/76?page=1 (last visited Mar. 23, 2009).