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Malaysia gov't magazine suspension sparks protests

KUALA LUMPUR -- Dozens of journalists protested Saturday in Malaysia against the suspension of a weekly magazine, urging the Southeast Asian nation to allow greater press freedom.

The Heat stopped publication last month after the Home Ministry suspended it, saying it had violated its printing permit as a weekly business magazine and failed to respond to the ministry to explain the matter.

Some 50 journalists and activists, wearing red and chanting “free the media,” held an hour-long protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur where they urged the government to lift the suspension and stop controlling the press.

“This is not just about the suspension of The Heat. It's about the freedom of the press,” activist Ambiga Sreenevasan said in a speech.

“It is about fighting for the rights of the people, the rights of the people to speak and to receive information.”

The Heat, which was launched last year, denied it has not responded to the ministry's letters sent to it in late November and early December.

On Monday, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi was quoted by local media as saying that the suspension was “temporary.”

The Heat on its website describes itself as “a weekly that intends to push the boundaries of press freedom” with investigative stories on social, economic and other current issues.

The suspension followed an article on Prime Minister Najib Razak's “growing expenditure” on overseas trips and other expenses.

Najib's 56-year ruling coalition, which was re-elected in May with its poorest showing yet, dominates mainstream media through permits and ownership.

But criticism of the regime is flourishing online on news portals and social media sites.

Amid pressure, Najib has vowed to grant greater civil liberties, loosening decades-old security and other laws deemed as repressive by critics.

But he is facing resistance, including from his own party members used to decades of iron-fisted leadership, and critics accuse him of mere window-dressing to gain votes.

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Malaysian journalists gather during a protest against the suspension of Malaysian magazine “The Heat” in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, Jan. 4. (AFP)

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