PEN Malaysia, an advocate for freedom of expression, has expressed deep concern over the recent confiscation of books by government authorities from local bookstores. The organisation vehemently calls for an end to such stringent actions that restrict access to knowledge and impede open discourse.
In a recent incident on 23 November 2023, enforcement officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs conducted a seizure of eight titles from Gerakbudaya, an independent bookstore situated in Petaling Jaya. Notably, all confiscated titles were locally published in the Chinese language, focusing on the historical narrative of the Malayan Communist Party (Parti Komunis Malaya, PKM).
Dr. Ann Lee, Chairperson of PEN Malaysia, expressed dismay at the recurrent book seizures, emphasising that treating books as intimidating entities through periodic confiscations significantly hampers our ability to foster creativity and engage in open discussions.
“Seizing books every now and then, as if they are scary monsters and super creeps, has a laughable effect on our capacity for creativity and open discourse.”
PEN Malaysia stated that the removal of these books, particularly those that delve into Malaysian history, obstructs the society’s comprehension of its own narrative. Any act that obstructs a society’s understanding of itself fundamentally undermines democratic principles.
An employee from Gerakbudaya highlighted that none of the titles seized during the operation were listed as banned under the Printing Presses and Publications Acts (PPPA) of 1984. Among the confiscated titles, at least five were historical accounts, while two constituted memoirs authored by former PKM members.
This seizure is reminiscent of a similar incident in August 2023 when government officials confiscated two titles—a book of poetry and an academic text—from a Kuala Lumpur bookstore owned by local writer Benz Ali.
PEN Malaysia strongly advocates for the unhindered access to diverse literary materials and viewpoints, emphasising the importance of fostering an environment conducive to open dialogue and intellectual growth.
The continuous seizure of books not only stifles free expression but also hampers the nation’s pursuit of understanding its history and fostering a robust intellectual environment.
The organization urges the authorities to reevaluate their approach to intellectual freedom and cease such arbitrary actions that impede the free flow of information and ideas, standing firm in its commitment to upholding the principles of freedom of expression for all.
In August 2023, the Home Ministry’s raid on Toko Buku Rakyat, owned by Benz Ali, drew criticism for being unlawful, unconstitutional, and a national embarrassment. Benz questioned the purpose of the raids, while Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) accused the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration, led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, of wielding excessive power under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), labeling the officers’ actions as overzealous and unnecessary.