KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 13 — The Home Ministry is continuing an archaic tradition of policing language, sex and religion by banning certain publications in the Internet age, a recent report by a local think tank showed.
The Penang Institute highlighted that the ministry had banned 1,695 books from 1971 to this year in its analysis of banned books titled “The Policing and Politics of the Malay Language” based on ministry data and released October 10.
The report by institute analyst Ooi Kok Hin found 556 Malay books banned since 1971, followed by 516 books in English and 450 in Chinese.
“The language policing pattern is made clearer when two extra factors are added to the equation,” he said in the report, pointing out that publications in Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia, which shared the same language root, were placed in their own category and prompted an increase of banned Malay books to 692, or 40.83 per cent.
Ooi also noted that a Malay translation of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species had been banned, but not the original English version.
The report did not provide a list of all the banned book titles, but said the majority of Malay books banned were on topics related to sex and pornography.
The report also indicated that the highest number of book bans were recorded in 1992 and 1994 with 148 and 149 books respectively.
The data also showed books on sex topped the 1992 blacklist at 82, followed by 39 books on religion and politics while in 1994, 97 religious and political books were banned, outstripping sex books which saw only 28 topics being removed from shelves.
The dates correspond with the period when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister and home minister, a post he held from May 1986 to January 1999.
The report stated that the use of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) by the Home Ministry did not reflect positively, especially in the current era where much information is readily available on the Internet and in all languages.
“It is also crucial to ask whether it is realistic for the Home Ministry to conduct language policing and book banning in this day and age,” the analyst Ooi said in his concluding remarks.
He asserted that banning books or certain titles would only increase its publicity and that there were alternative titles or versions of the books available online for download.
“Unless the Home Ministry is planning to be on constant look out for other book versions and translations, it is safe to conclude that the book ban is not only ineffective, but also counter-productive,” he added.
He suggested the ministry cite excerpts from books it deemed harmful to public order and morality to support its grounds for banning the publication, but also argued for avenues to contest its ban.
The Home Ministry has come under fire from free speech advocates and certain civil society groups following its recent ban on a number of religious books, including those promoting moderation, the latest by prominent US-based Turkish author and journalist Mustafa Akyol, Islam Without Extremes.
Lawyer Siti Kasim and G25, a pro-moderation group of retired senior civil servants whose collection of essays titled Breaking the Silence: Voices of a Moderation Islam in a Constitutional Democracy was banned in July for allegedly being a threat to public order, have also criticised the book bans.