24 September 2001


Restrictive press law adopted

Incident details

Incident details

legal action

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(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Home Affairs Minister Isa Bin Ibrahim, RSF protested the adoption of a restrictive press law that includes provisions for prison sentences and heavy fines for press offences. "This kind of law will put a brake on the development of the private press, and may lead to the imprisonment of critical journalists," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. RSF asked the minister to repeal the decision and amend the law, to make it less restrictive.

According to information obtained by RSF, on 19 September 2001, the government published an amendment named the "Local Newspapers Order 2001" in the official gazette. This first press law includes provisions for prison sentences of up to three years and fines of up to 40,000 Brunei dollars (approx. US$22,650; 20,000 euros) for the distribution of "false news". Media will also have to register and obtain a newspaper license provided by the Home Affairs Ministry, and deposit 100,000 Brunei dollars (approx. US$56,600; 50,000 Euros) in a government account. The home affairs minister will have the right to refuse to grant a newspaper a licence without justification, to ban the sale of foreign publications and to suspend media outlets. Newspapers will not have any right to appeal. In addition, the heads of all press groups must be subjects of the Sultanate of Brunei.

The law, which will come into effect in the coming days, also prohibits media outlets from receiving foreign financing without government approval.

The Sultanate of Brunei, located west of Borneo, has only two daily newspapers: the "Borneo Bulletin", which is close to the authorities, and "News Express", a more independent newspaper.

In its 2001 annual report, RSF wrote, "Since 1962 the sultan of Brunei has assumed full powers, combining the posts of prime minister, defence minister, finance minister, dean of the university, police chief and 'leader of the faithful'. The country's internal security law allows the police to imprison anyone suspected of 'anti-government activities' for a renewable two-year period, without trial."


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