The Centre for Independent Journalism is a non-profit organisation promoting media independence and freedom of expression in Malaysia.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) strongly condemns the actions of former prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad last night that glorified violence and pushed out hate speech and misogynistic messages. We call on Dr. Mahathir to apologise to the nation for these remarks and retract what he wrote at once.
In response to a statement by French president Emmanuel Macron and the recent knife attack in France that killed three people, Dr. Mahathir tweeted, “Muslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the past”. He added: “Since you have blamed all Muslims and the Muslims’ religion for what was done by one angry person, the Muslims have a right to punish the French.” Twitter initially marked the first tweet as “glorifying violence” but did not take it down as it “may be in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain accessible”. However, Twitter later took this tweet down for violating its rules. Nevertheless, that sentence is still featured on Dr. Mahathir’s blog.
While international law recognises the fundamental right to freedom of expression, this right is not absolute; by virtue of these same international legal instruments, freedom of expression may be restricted. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that everyone should be free from incitement to discrimination. Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. This is emphasised by the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which aims to proscribe all forms of race-based expression that explicitly lead to discrimination.
The Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence proposes a six-part test that includes identifying and analysing the (i) context; (ii) prominence of the speaker; (iii) intent; (iv) content and form; (v) extent of the speech act; and (vi) likelihood, including the imminence, of a crime. Even by adopting the high threshold of the harm test illustrated in the Rabat Plan of Action, we can see that elements of the first-listed tweet by the former prime minister in our statement amounts to hate speech, even if he did not allude to picking up arms or directly asking for Muslims to commit violence against the French.
Furthermore, even placing it within the overall context of Dr. Mahathir’s statement where he went on to state that, “But by and large the Muslims have not applied the “eye for an eye” law. Muslims don’t. The French shouldn’t”, it still does not provide him with a defence or justify his position that we have a “right to kill”. Right to life is a non-derogable right.
A person of Dr. Mahathir’s caliber and public standing, as a former head of state and seasoned leader and politician, carries with him a larger responsibility of being careful with his words and refraining from taking to hate speech and glorifying violence, because of the broader and wider repercussions. As such, it is alarming and grossly irresponsible of the former prime minister to propagate the above-listed message, as such virulent and hate-laden statements may trigger the worst of actions, such as provoking imminent violence or crimes.
We also call into question Dr. Mahathir’s other remarks last night, which reeked of misogyny and moral policing. He wrote: “Today, we want to eliminate everything that is different between men and women. Physically we are different. This limits our capacity to be equal. We have to accept these differences and the limitations that are placed on us“. He further wrote: “The dress code of European women at one time was severely restrictive. Apart from the face no part of the body was exposed. But over the years, more and more parts of the body are exposed. Today a little string covers the most secret place, that’s all. In fact, many in the west are totally naked when on certain beaches.”
By perpetuating outdated and misguided “ideals” about what women should wear and that women cannot be equal to men, Dr. Mahathir is perpetuating discrimination and undermining the push for gender equality. This clearly goes contrary to Malaysia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Articles 2 and 5 of CEDAW require the State to adopt all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination, committed not just by the State but also by all private actors, and to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
It is incumbent that Dr. Mahathir uses his position and seniority as a public figure in educating the masses and promoting the elimination of all forms of discrimination, rather than misuse the different social media platforms to provoke and incite hostility, hatred and discrimination.
We, thus, call for the following actions to be taken:
30 October 2020
Wathshlah G. Naidu
CIJ Executive Director
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