CIJ calls for harm test to be administered before attacking freedom of expression
June 29, 2020
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) notes recent developments in the police investigations against CodeBlue Editor-in-Chief Boo Su-Lyn overarticles she wrote over the 2016 fire at Hospital Sultanah Aminahin Johor that attempted to hold the State to account. Instead of being probed under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) as initially reported – which CIJ had criticised – it is affirmed that she is being investigated under Section 203A of the Penal Code instead, which criminalises the disclosure of information.
We acknowledge this change but maintain that the State should not be using repressive laws as tools of suppression to limit our right to information and threaten media freedom. Section 203A of the Penal Code has been criticised in the past for its overly broad and ambiguous definitions that punish disclosure of information obtained by a person in the performance of their duties or in the exercise of their functions under any written law. This is open to arbitrary interpretation and application, prohibiting the disclosure of declassified and even publicly available information and directly infringing on the public’s right to have access to information and exercise their freedom of expression, which is the case now.
The principle of maximum disclosure of documents of public interest must be adhered to by the State and a harm test must always be administered to determine legitimacy, necessity and proportionality before attacking and restricting the freedom of expression and opinion. As stated in theJohannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, no person should be punished on national security grounds if their disclosure of information does not actually bring about harm and the public interest in knowing said information outweighs the harm from its disclosure.
CIJ once again calls on the authorities to drop their investigations into CodeBlue’s Editor-in-Chief and for the Perikatan Nasional government to continue with the previous government’s commitment to repeal the draconian OSA and enact a Right to Information Act. Section 203A of the Penal Code should also be repealed, while journalists and media houses should not be intimidated or criminalised by the State for their critical reporting.