M16 News, U.K.
Malaysian authorities have seized from newsstands copies of a tabloid newspaper run by an opposition Islamic party, but denied the move was sparked by the publication of a photograph that shows the prime minister at a public event with actress Michelle Yeoh - reports IHT.
The latest issue of Harakah features a front page photograph of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi placing a hand on Yeoh's bare shoulder during a dinner ceremony at an international sailing tournament in Malaysia's northeastern Terengganu state last month.
Officers from the Internal Security Ministry have confiscated copies from retail outlets over the past week because the newspaper is supposed to be sold only to members of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the ministry's enforcement spokesman, Zailani Hashim, said Thursday.
"The action has nothing to do with images published in the issue," Zailani said, rejecting speculation by Harakah's editor that the government wants to prevent the photo from being seen.
Harakah's Web site said the photograph displayed Abdullah's "naughty antics" with Yeoh, a Malaysian-born star whose international film credits include "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and the James Bond film, "Tomorrow Never Dies."
The Islamic party that publishes Harakah has often accused Abdullah's moderate government of failing to uphold religious and moral standards in this Southeast Asian country, where nearly two-thirds of the 26 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims.
The party is the main political rival of Abdullah's ruling coalition and publishes 140,000 copies of Harakah twice a month. The newspaper's government-approved publication license states it can only be sold to party members, but the rule is often not stringently enforced.
Fewer than 100 copies have been seized from outlets in Malaysia's main city, Kuala Lumpur, Zailani said. He added that the government has the right to retract the newspaper's permit because it was violating its conditions, but no such action is being planned so far.
Harakah's editor, Ahmad Lutfi Othman, said the permit's conditions were unfair. He noted that copies had sometimes been confiscated from public outlets between 1999 and 2000, but that this was the first such incident since he became editor last February.
"We believe the government is now trying to create a culture of fear through these raids," Ahmad Lutfi said. "We're studying this matter with plans to challenge the regulations in court."
International and local rights groups have long criticized restrictions on press freedoms in Malaysia, where the government is closely linked with the mainstream media and wields tough laws that require publishers to obtain annual permits from authorities.