A Home Ministry statement said provisions in the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 allowed for such action to be taken against the Tamil daily.
“Following the publication of the picture, Makkal Osai has committed an offence by going against paragraph six of the permit conditions under subsection 6(1) of the Act,” it said.
The provision forbids newspapers from publishing materials that are damaging, potentially harmful to the peace, morality and safety of the public, threaten public and national interests, or which go against the law.
The decision came less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi chastised the newspaper’s publishers for allowing the picture to be printed and causing public outrage.
Makkal Osai general manager S.M. Periasamy said the paper would appeal the decision.
He said he was “very upset” over the suspension but was greatly heartened by the support shown by the Christian community.
“We made a mistake and apologised.
I am happy that Christian leaders accepted the apology,” he said.
However, in Kerteh, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili called for stern action to be taken against those who ß outed the law and openly committed seditious acts by mocking religions or the national anthem.
He expressed support for the prime minister’s admonishment of Makkal Osai for the picture, saying such acts must be punished in accordance with the law so that it would not be repeated by others to cause religious disharmony.
“Increasingly, there are irresponsible people, including certain sections of the media, who openly engage in ridiculing other religions or making a mockery of the national anthem.
“These are dishonourable acts and have long-term ramifications for national unity because of the sensitivities involved.
"After committing such acts they take the easy route of expressing remorse and apology. This is not enough. The law must take its course," he said afer flagging off a Jalur Gemilang convoy of 100 Rukun Tetangga vehicles from Bandar Baru Kerteh to Kemaman, Terengganu, organised by the National Unity and Integration Department.
Ongkili, who’s a Christian, added those responsible should be charged in order to deter others from committing the same acts. "If those charged wish to plea in mitigation, it is up to the courts to consider," he said.
Makkal Osai, which has a daily average circulation of 25,000, published a picture of Jesus Christ, holding a cigarette in one hand and what appeared to be a beer can in the other, on the front page of Tuesday’s edition with a caption saying: "If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits him."
Makkal Osai printed a front-page apology the next day after an uproar from the Christian community. The MIC lodged a police report on Wednesday alleging that the picture was a "threat to national harmony".
Party members also sent a memorandum of protest to the prime minister’s office. A second apology followed on Thursday. Periasamy explained that the mistake had been committed by a staff member in charge of graphics who had downloaded the picture from the Internet to go with the daily inspirational quote section.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Murphy Pakiam, was "perplexed and bemused" by the decision to suspend the paper. "Christians believe in reconciliation. We are confident that the newspaper was sincere in its apology and will see to it that this does not happen again," he said.
Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism president Datuk A. Vaithi-lingam said a warning would have been sufficient. Makkal Osai or "The People’s Voice" was published as a weekly newspaper for 15 years before it became a daily in December 2005.
It is an offshoot of Tamil Osai which ceased operations in 1990 after a management dispute. In February last year, two papers were suspended for publishing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad which appeared in the Danish press.
The Sarawak Tribune was suspended indefinitely for reproducing the caricature while the evening edition of the Guang Ming Daily was suspended for two weeks for carrying a picture of a man reading a Danish newspaper with the caricature clearly visible on it.