In yesterday's editorial "Jailed in Malaysia," the sentence given to journalist Murray Hiebert was stated incorrectly as six years rather than six weeks, and the sentence given to former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim as six months rather than six years. (Published 09/17/1999)
THE LATEST victim of the police mentality that seems increasingly to prevail in Malaysia is Murray Hiebert, bureau chief of the Far Eastern Economic Review, an English-language regional weekly published by Dow Jones & Co. Over the weekend Mr. Hiebert was sentenced for a local form of contempt known as "scandalizing the court." His offense was to report that a mother had sued her 17-year-old son's elite school for unfairly dropping him from the debate team, that the boy's father is a prominent Court of Appeals judge and that "many are surprised at the speed with which the case raced through Malaysia's legal labyrinth." For this, six weeks in jail for Murray Hiebert.
Not for the first time, Malaysia has impressed on observers its alternating sensitivity and insensitivity. Sensitive to even the barest suggestion of disapproval or criticism from any quarter, insensitive to the conclusions people everywhere draw as they see Malaysia acting ever more arbitrarily. This attitude, furthermore, is directed not only toward its own citizens -- the former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim is serving six months on ridiculous corruption charges -- but also toward selected foreigners. This is how Mr. Hiebert comes to be in jail now.
Sending a journalist to jail for something he wrote cannot fail to influence the climate in which other journalists operate and in which all of public life takes place. It sends the message that Malaysia is not modernizing its political circumstances even as it modernizes its economic ones. It is building in a tension that will embarrass the country and undercut its national progress as well as its reputation.