Irshad Manji's new book banned, among others
On 29 May, Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein banned Manji's "Allah, Liberty and Love", saying it was "prejudicial to morality and public order." The same day, some 20 officers raided the offices of the Malay language publisher, ZI Publications, seized the book and arrested ZI's owner Ezra Zaid, reports Human Rights Watch.
"Malaysian authorities say they are protecting morality by banning Manji's book, but this is just old-fashioned state repression," said Human Rights Watch.
CIJ called it "a pretext for the wanton exercise of power under the guise of religious order."
According to the members, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Abu Seman Yusop said the book was banned because it could "deviate Muslims from their faith" and "insulted Islam," and that there had been "numerous complaints" against it.
He said he had acted based on a report by the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which found the book had elements that "could confuse the public."
Under the Printing Presses and Publication Law, the Home Affairs Minister has "absolute discretion" to ban books, from possession to reproduction and distribution, says Human Rights Watch.
Manji called the ban "an insult to a new generation of Malaysians."
Manji had managed to launch "Allah, Liberty and Love" at a hastily arranged event in Kuala Lumpur last month after two other venues pulled out of hosting the event, according to local publisher ZI Publications.
"Fantastic event in KL! Great energy - except 4 cops who told latecomers that event is banned. Didn't stop us. Congrats 2 all," Manji wrote on Twitter.
CIJ, which signed an appeal with more than a dozen other concerned groups, noted that book banning is not new. "The trend started much earlier with the banning of works by Karen Armstrong, Salman Rushdie, Khalil Gibran, Irvine Welsh and Iris Chang, among others," the groups said in a statement.
They note that the ban has even been used against local authors, such as Faisal Tehrani and Kassim Ahmad and the cartoonist Zunar.
"Book banning is a draconian measure that is not only ineffective but contrary to the spirit of dialogue and engagement that Malaysia desperately needs," said the groups, who are calling for the authorities to stop banning books altogether.