Online news site office vandalised in Kuala Lumpur amid rising ethnic tensions

Online portal had reported extensively on satirical video made by Chinese Christian politician that Muslims said was insulting

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 10:37pm

The office of one of Malaysia's leading online news portals, Malaysiakini, was vandalised yesterday as tensions escalate in the multi-ethnic and multi-faith country.

Red paint was splashed on the four-storey building in Kuala Lumpur. A critically injured duck was left at the main entrance inside a cardboard box. Taped on the side was a photo of an ethnic Chinese Christian opposition politician, Teresa Kok, who was recently accused of insulting Malay Muslims.

It was a provocative act in a country with a delicate balance between the Malay-Muslim majority and ethnic Chinese and Indians.

The political environment has been more tense around religious and racial issues

Malaysiakini's chief executive officer, Premesh Chandran, said the pioneering online news portal was probably targeted because it covered the controversy surrounding Kok extensively.

"Malaysiakini reports both sides. Some people may not like what you report," he said.

The alternative press in Malaysia has always worked under tough conditions. It was allowed to flourish online because of a government pledge not to censor the internet. All traditional media are linked to the governing National Front coalition, which has been in power since independence from Britain in 1957.

"After the 2013 election the political environment has been more tense around religious and racial issues," Chandran said.

Kok, from the opposition Democratic Action Party, condemned the attack as a clear threat to Malaysiakini and its journalists.

Her office was vandalised in a similar fashion last week, with a dead chicken laid at the front entrance.

Both incidents are believed to be linked to Kok's online video called Onederful, which is a play on the government's 1Malaysia unity campaign.

In it, Kok used a fung shui talk show format to poke fun at the rising cost of living and other issues. One of the characters in the video resembled the prime minister's wife, who has been accused of extravagant spending while Malaysians were asked to pay more for food and energy.

Kok said the video was satirising grievances people had against the government and denied that any characters were modelled after real people. "Attackers are trying to send a message to Malaysiakini that it is related to the video clip," she said.

"This is a threat to Malaysiakini and its journalists."

Hundreds of people filed complaints to the police saying the video incited racial hatred. A few Malay Muslim groups said that the video was an insult to their race and Islam and initially offered 500 ringgit (HK$1,180) to people who would slap the female politician. They later increased the reward to 1,200 ringgit.

Malaysia's home minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is Malay Muslim, has dismissed the need for an investigation.

"If they issued a threat, then it would be a threat. Slapping is not," the Star newspaper quoted Zahid as saying.

Rights groups and opposition politicians said such comments from senior officials raised tensions, which had already been strained by a dispute over the word Allah. Islamist groups said only they can use the Arabic term, while Christians say they have been calling their god Allah in the Malay language for centuries.

While the issue has simmered for years, some independent news portals said Prime Minister Najib Razak was too weak to stop his hardline Malay-Muslim supporters from pushing for more protection for their race.

As an answer to his critics, Najib yesterday called on Malaysians to ignore "extremist groups and organisations that tend to destroy the trust between races".

Najib said he would be unveiling and implementing a national reconciliation plan over the next few months.