Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has described the Government's decision to reduce sharply the frequency of publication of the popular opposition newspaper as 'punishment'. This differs from the explanation given by Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Mr Badawi said the move was 'not something extraordinary' and was intended to standardise the number of issues allowed all party publications. He said there was no political reason behind the move. Harakah, the official paper of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), which had been coming out twice a week, is now allowed to publish only two issues a month. All publications in Malaysia are subjected to strict regulations and an annual review of publishing permits. Mr Badawi said the twice-a-month limit would be imposed on the publications of other political parties, including the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the dominant government party, which is reviving an old newsletter called Merdeka. In the same catch-up vein, Umno launched a Web site this week, some months after Harakah went electronic. Asked about the action taken against Harakah, Dr Mahathir said people should expect some form of punishment if they break the law. 'The law must be obeyed,' he said. 'We are impartial. Government members who break the law are taken to court, charged and sentenced if they are guilty.' He said opposition members could not break the law and expect not to be punished. He said PAS was only supposed to circulate the newspaper among party members but they had been selling it to the public. Dr Mahathir said the action against Harakah was 'gentle'. 'But if they continue to break the law, we will be more severe to them.' He made similar remarks about the need for the law to be obeyed in the wake of the arrest of two leading opposition figures and the editor and printer of Harakah on charges of sedition. He has repeatedly criticised Harakah, accusing it of publishing lies.