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Stop intimidation of media for reporting deputy police chief’s statement on rape threat against schoolgirl

The media in Malaysia will never be free as long as they are subjected to being summoned

Image: Geralt/Pixabay

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The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) demands that the police and Ministry of Home Affairs stop targeting the media for quoting a public statement made by Deputy Inspector General of Police Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani.

During a media update on 26 April 2021 that discussed the recent rape threat against a school-going teenager and related police reports lodged by her, the deputy inspector general reportedly stated: “The second report is regarding what may be a joke from her classmate, which she couldn’t accept” (mungkin gurauan rakan sedarjahnya yang beliau tidak boleh terima).

The police issued a statement to clarify the deputy inspector general’s statement, stating that it referred to aspects of the ongoing investigation. Regardless, there was no necessity for him to describe the investigation regarding the schoolgirl’s complaint that contained a rape threat in that manner.

As reported, neither in the teenager’s police report nor the voice message of the threat of rape by a schoolmate of the student was it ever stated that the rape was a joke. Speculating that it may have been a joke shifts the attention and responsibility from the real threat of rape and alludes to victim-blaming.

The police also claimed in their statement that Malaysiakini and China Press’s headlines quoting the deputy inspector general were irresponsible. On top of that, on 27 April 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs, under whose purview includes the police force, said it views the “inaccurate news reports” of these portals seriously and would call up Malaysiakini and China Press to get clarification on their reports.

It is disturbing that the ministry has threatened to summon these news portals for reporting on this issue. If the authorities are of the view that they have been misquoted or misrepresented, they are entitled to clarify their statement, which the police have done. The press should not be subjected to being summoned by the government or threatened with action simply because the authorities are dissatisfied with the manner in which a report was presented.

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Independence is a key component of the media’s ability to hold authorities to account. The media in Malaysia will never be free as long as they are subjected to being summoned by the authorities or the government on matters such as this or each time the authorities are portrayed in a negative light. It is precisely these kinds of actions from the authorities that contributed to Malaysia’s precipitous fall of 18 spots in the 2020 world press freedom ranking.

It is not acceptable for the media to be targeted for reporting verbatim on the deputy inspector general’s statements. The police force must not be seen to be enabling a rape culture in Malaysia and statements such as that made by the deputy inspector general can easily be construed as such. Rape, including threats of rape, is a crime, and should never be treated as a possibility that it may be a joke.

Such statements from the police force must be investigated, censured and the personnel reprimanded, regardless of hierarchy. We call on this to be done without any delay. CIJ, thus, renews calls for the independent police complaints of misconduct commission (IPCMC) to be established, with no further delay, so that police accountability and professionalism is upheld at all times.

It will further serve the police, Ministry of Home Affairs and country better if all public officials attend regular gender sensitisation trainings, which uphold international human rights standards.

Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism

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