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) is alarmed at the continued crackdown against the freedom of expression and the apparent lack of understanding by government authorities of this fundamental human right.
The Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar has again threatened action via Twitter against those whom he deems to have breached the Sedition Act and other laws that restrict freedom of expression. In the wake of the Federal Court upholding the conviction and five-year jail term for Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, Khalid said the police would investigate DAP member of Parliament Nga Kor Ming under the Sedition Act for a tweet calling on the public to oppose the despotic regime (“rejim zalim”). He also said the police would investigate cartoonist Zunar for a tweet that referred to rewards from political masters and Rafizi Ramli for a cartoon of a judge.
Such investigations and charges under the Sedition Act are ongoing because of the continued failure of the government to fulfil Prime Minister Najib Razak’s promise to repeal this draconian legislation which goes against established international standards on freedom of expression. It also contravenes the Federal Constitution which states that legitimate restrictions can only be placed on this freedom in the interests of national security, public order and public morality. The Federal Court has held that such restrictions must be demonstrated to be necessary and proportionate.
Investigating and charging individuals for expressing criticism against the government, its agencies, or the judiciary, but that does not constitute a direct and immediate threat to public order or national security, goes against established national laws as well as international human rights standards. Such actions have been criticised in Malaysia as well as by international organisations, the international media and world leaders. Prosecuting people for expressing critique of government authorities or the judiciary directly counters any claim of democracy and accountability by the government
There is disproportionate attention given by the police to critical statements posted online which have not threatened or incited any violence. On the other hand, CIJ notes with regret that there have been no announcements forthcoming from the police on their progress in investigating actual threats of violence against a female journalist from a Tamil newspaper in Penang who received multiple death threats merely for doing her job.
However the Federal Court decided, discussion regarding the Anwar case and the independence of the judiciary would have been inevitable, given the strong interest in the case. An independent judiciary is one of the cornerstones of an established democracy. Shutting down such discussions and questions is not the way to move forward from here. If the police are indeed committed to maintaining public order in the wake of this decision, they should not discourage public discussion and expression over this decision. Stifling the tension and deep displeasure in certain segments of society over this decision may only lead to greater unrest. The police’s role is to ensure that any discussion and discourse do not incite hatred and violence towards any individual or any particular group, rather than to ensure “harmony”, which is a vague and nebulous term.
This is a pivotal time for our nation. CIJ calls on all parties to maintain open and peaceful discourse and for issues to be debated and discussed, instead of shut down and buried.
Sonia Randhawa and Jac Kee
Centre for Independent Journalism