False information on critical matters, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the emergency, should be countered with facts, not Acts, said a coalition of civil society organisations focused on freedom of expression.
Calling for Parliament to reconvene as a check and balance mechanism for any laws, some 20 people gathered to state their stand against the Emergency (Essential Powers) (No 2) Ordinance 2021 in a peaceful protest today.
Under strict Covid-19 prevention procedures to avoid a potential RM10,000 compound, the group stood outside the Parliament building in a social distanced formation, raising placards that highlighted their messages for the government.
Group spokespersons, Wathshlah G Naidu and Jac SM Kee, took turns to read out the group’s demands, which include for Parliament – as a check and balance force in democracy – to urgently reconvene.
“We think it is time for us to have our trust back in the institution of open debate and democracy, in order to pass any laws that infringe on our fundamental freedoms,” Kee later told reporters.
She reiterated concerns that provisions under the ordinance to curb dissemination or false information on Covid-19 and the emergency were too wide-reaching, despite the government’s insistence otherwise.
“It can be used by the executive to basically silence any form of speech.
“And the two subject areas they put under it are very important as they affect us all today,” she stressed.
“It is about the emergency ordinance which affects how we understand governance and our government.
“And it’s about the virus that is also affecting every single one of us,” said the digital rights activist.
De facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan previously said the Emergency Ordinance and related ordinances will be repealed at the next Parliament sitting after the emergency has been lifted, or it will expire after six months from the last day of the emergency.
Wathshlah, however, noted there is no certainty as to when the emergency will be lifted.
“What we are seeing is a track record of broken promises since last year.
“Although the government has mentioned an August deadline, we are not given an assurance that it will end,” she said.
In the meantime, she noted that there are various possibilities of potential actions under the ordinance, taking into account ongoing cases seen as stifling the people’s rights to freedom of expression and information.
“Having more Acts will only stifle the people, while more facts will give us the information needed to make informed decisions.
“If the government is only using Acts to silence the people, the information will be a one-way narrative, so how are we to determine its accuracy?” she asked.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah had previously urged critics to not “overstretch” provisions of the ordinance beyond Covid-19 and the emergency.
He also insisted authorities will differentiate between criticism of the government and fake news.
Some police personnel were present at the scene and the group dispersed after about 30 minutes.
Among the participants includes graphic designer Fahmi Reza, who is currently under probe for several of his social media postings questioning an alleged government double standard in enforcing its Covid-19 protocols.