Perikatan Nasional (PN) government
The Perikatan Nasional (PN) government has been complicit in silencing dissent and opposing views, legitimate questioning of the ruling administration and their related policies, and critical reporting of the media.
This has severely limited our freedom of expression (FOE), free speech, freedom of assembly, right to information (RTI) and media freedom.
Lawyer-activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri was questioned at Bukit Aman over a rally in Dataran Merdeka following the political crisis that culminated in the swearing in of Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister. Fadiah had allegedly tweeted about the rally and invited people to join in, saying “Turun ke Jalan, Demokrasi Mati” (Go to the Streets, Democracy is Dead) rally”. She was investigated under Section 4(1)(a) of the Sedition Act and Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA.
Separately, Marina Mahathir, Ambiga Sreenevasan and 14 other activists were investigated and questioned by the police over a rally held in front of Sogo shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur on 1 March, held to express disapproval of Muhyiddin Yassin’s appointment as the prime minister.
Blogger Dian Abdullah was charged in court under Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA for allegedly sharing offensive and menacing content, and for allegedly making statements that could cause public mischief following her two blog posts about the Yang di-Pertuan Agung (YDPA) and the prime minister.
The Information Department tweeted a list of information that it defines as “fake news”, including information that instils hate towards the ruling government and leaders.
Soon after, the National Security Council directs the police and the Communications and Multimedia Ministry to take “stern action” against online news websites that allegedly misreport government statements on COVID-19.
Channel News Asia Malaysia Bureau Chief Melissa Goh was called out by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob over alleged misreporting and her “bad intentions” on the basis of her news report on the immigration raids against migrants.
Media access to a one day Parliament sitting was restricted to only state-owned media Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) and Bernama, with COVID-19 used as a justification.
Police announced that former minister Xavier Jayakumar will be called in for questioning following his alleged statement in a video clip that the May 18 Dewan Rakyat sitting would be “worthless” and “rubbish” as MPs cannot debate the YDPA’s speech. The investigation was under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the CMA.
Only “official media” were allowed to cover the Melaka and Perak state assembly sitting, because of COVID-19. In the Perak state assembly instance, this was even despite invitations being sent beforehand to all media to cover the sitting, and instructions to send one reporter and one photographer to abide by physical distancing SOPs.
South China Morning Post Correspondent (SCMP) Tashny Sukumaran was summoned to Bukit Aman for questioning over her report of the May Day immigration raid in Kuala Lumpur. She was investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA. Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah later tweeted that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) will not press charges. In July, Tashny tweeted that her case was classified as “No Further Action”.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba issued a letter of demand to Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) after the NGO linked him to a company being investigated for corruption over an RM30 million health ministry contract.
Radio DJ Patrick Teoh was charged in court under Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA for allegedly insulting the Johor Crown Prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, on Facebook.
RTM launched a new channel to counter misinformation and “fake news”.
Lawyer-activist Siti Kasim was investigated under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and also Section 233 of the CMA, over allegations that she allegedly called for tahfiz schools to be banned.
Five protestors and unionists – M. Sarasvathy, L. Danaletchumi, V. Santhiran, P. Jody and C. Subramane – were arrested for allegedly flouting COVID-19 SOPs after participating in a peaceful assembly in front of the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital in Perak, where they were demanding improved working conditions of hospital cleaners there. The five claimed trial in court a few days later for gathering for social purposes in an infected area, and charged under Rule 7(1) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures within Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020. In October 2020, the five were granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA).
Three women human rights defenders were questioned by the police over the International Women’s Day 2020 March, for allegedly failing to give a 10-day notice before the gathering. They were investigated under Section 9(5) of the PAA.
CodeBlue Editor-In-Chief Boo Su-Lyn was called in for questioning by the police over the health news portal’s reports on the declassified findings of an independent inquiry committee into the 2016 fire at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Bahru. Investigations are underway for wrongful disclosure of information under Section 203A of the Penal Code.
Former youth minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman tweeted that he was being investigated under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of CMA, following an interview he gave Al Jazeera in March, where he spoke of his disappointment with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for purportedly betraying the party’s founding principles by working with “kleptocrats”. Syed Saddiq was later questioned by the police at Bukit Aman.
Police announced an investigation into the owners of the “Hannah Yeoh” Facebook page under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948, Section 505(c) of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA for allegedly linking a PAS deputy minister’s appointment into the women, community and family development ministry with a rise in child marriages. Former deputy minister Hannah Yeoh was questioned over the post, although investigations show the post was made by the muafakatnasional.net portal, and not Hannah. In February 2021, Hannah announced that the case has been classified as “No Further Action”.
Separately, Hannah was also summoned by Bukit Aman for questioning over a tweet she made earlier in the year about the fate of the National Strategic Plan to Address the Causes of Underage Marriage under her successor. She was investigated by the police under Section 505 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA.
Former minister R. Sivarasa tweeted that he was being investigated over his comments to the media in November 2019 where he claimed the “deep state” was involved in the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 arrests supposedly involving the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He was questioned at a district police headquarters later in the month.
Sri Sanjeevan Ramakrishnan, the chairman of the Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force (MyWatch), was summoned to court for allegedly making offensive remarks with an intent to hurt others (the police) on his personal Twitter account and the MyWatch Twitter profile. Sanjeevan was charged under Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA.
NGO Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, or C4, tweeted that their founder, Cynthia Gabriel, had been called in for police questioning about a letter calling for an investigation into allegations that the government was trading favours for political support. Cynthia was investigated at the PJ Seksyen 8 police district headquarters under Section 4 of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the CMA.
Attorney-General Idris Harun filed an ex-parte application to initiate contempt of court proceedings against Malaysiakini and its Editor-In-Chief, Stevan Gan, over comments made by five subscribers on its website relating to the judiciary.
The contributing writers, artist, publisher and editor of a book on 14th General Election-related articles called “Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance and Hope in New Malaysia”, were investigated and questioned by the police after outcry over the book’s artistic use of the national coat of arms on its cover. The publisher’s office was raided and the book was subsequently banned by the home minister under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) Order 2020. The case was investigated under Section 5 of the Emblems and Names (Preventing Unlawful Use) (Amendment) Act 2016, Section 4 (1) of the Sedition Act, Section 8 (1) of the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA) 1984, as well as Section 233 of the CMA.
Inspector-General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador warned police officers and public servants not to reveal or share investigation reports to the public or post them on social media, or risk being investigated under the OSA.
The Communications and Multimedia Ministry said it will review Al Jazeera’s accreditation and production licence over its Locked Up In Malaysia’s Lockdown documentary, which sparked outrage over its highlighted criticism of serious violations by authorities and mistreatment when raids were conducted in red zones in Kuala Lumpur during the movement control order (MCO). In connection with the Al Jazeera case, the Immigration Department later warned that foreign nationals who “make “inaccurate statements” and which are “aimed at damaging Malaysia’s image” could see their passes revoked. Immigration Department also promptly released a Bangladeshi interviewee’s name, passport number and last known address. He was arrested and deported later on. The State and its actors also raided Al Jazeera’s Kuala Lumpur office, and the offices of ASTRO and UnifiTV, for allegedly featuring the documentary. Six Al Jazeera staff were later questioned by Bukit Aman over the documentary. The authorities then declined to renew the visas of Al Jazeera Australian reporters Drew Ambrose and Jenni Henderson.
The National Unity Ministry, in a written Parliamentary reply, said it will take to the use of laws as a last resort to tackle threats against unity and national harmony, including Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act, Section 504 of the Penal Code, Section 505 of the Penal Code, Section 506 of the Penal Code, Section 4A of the Election Offences Act and Section 233 of the CMA.
Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, in a written Parliamentary reply, said that his government will not rush into ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), but will ensure that discussions are held with stakeholders like civil society, to ensure that provisions in international conventions do not contravene existing domestic laws.
Heidy Quah, director of NGO Refuge for the Refugees, shared on Facebook her experience helping a woman who struggled to care for her baby at the detention centre. Her writing also exposed allegedly horrific conditions of the immigration detention cells. Quah’s Facebook post on the issue had earned her a barrage of hate comments and harassments, including threats to her safety. Quah was later summoned to Bukit Aman. Her phone was confiscated. Her investigation is under Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA.
NGO Bersih’s chairman, Thomas Fann, was investigated for two postings Bersih made on Facebook. The first investigation is about a posting that urged the public to protest against an “undemocratic backdoor government” to not let politicians selfishly dictate the future direction of the country. The second investigation is on a posting which urged citizens who were unhappy with the betrayal of the people’s mandate brought about by the “Sheraton Move” to attend the protest. Thomas was questioned by the Dang Wangi District police under Section 9 of the PAA.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin, in a written Parliamentary reply, said the government is committed to bettering security laws such as Sosma and the Sedition Act. In a similar reply in August, the home minister reiterated that the Sedition Act is still relevant because Malaysia comprises various religions and races.
The Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) lodged a police report against a human rights defender who designed and published social media graphics on State-funded conversion therapy programmes.
The Election Commission barred non-official media from entering all nomination centres being used for the Sabah state elections, on the basis of COVID-19 preventative measures.
Parliament decided to restrict the media’s coverage of the proceedings of both houses to 15 media agencies, thus excluding online news portals and non-State owned radio station representatives from covering the session.
The police announce an investigation into four social media posts that were allegedly posted by four individuals (Ronnie Liu Tan Khiew, “Uncle Ireeve”, Liew Lip Nan and Ho Ruey Terng) under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the CMA. In February 2021, the police classified Liew Lip Nan’s case as “No Further Action”.
The police investigated Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth (UMANY), a student group, over a statement by the group arguing that the YDPA should not interfere in national affairs, under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the CMA. At least 9 UMANY members, including its president and vice-president, Robin Yap and Tan Li Yuan, were called up for questioning, as well as two other student activists. UMANY later released a statement saying their members were being harassed, cyberbullied and threatened online. The Public Service Department (JPA) asked for show-cause letters from six JPA-sponsored UMANY members over their purported involvement on the matter. UMANY’s statement was later retracted.
Separately, a former UMANY president, Wong Yan Ke, was detained overnight for recording a police officer attempting to search the house of his UMANY successor. Yan Ke was charged in court for allegedly disobeying a police order to stop broadcasting a Facebook live video over the raid, under Section 188 of the Penal Code. Bukit Aman later said taking videos or photographs of police investigations could affect the confidentiality of police investigations, so the public shouldn’t record or circulate recordings of police probes.
It was announced that the Special Affairs Department (JASA) propaganda unit was to be revived to the tune of RM85.5 million under Budget 2021, to hire more staff members and develop digital infrastructure throughout the country to strategically ensure an effective flow of information and to counter disinformation related to COVID-19 mitigation. The budget of JASA, or the Department of Community Communications (J-KOM) as it was later rebranded as, was eventually reduced to RM40 million.
The government stated it will not disclose details of the US$1.4 billion settlement between the government, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and Goldman Sachs because of “confidentiality clauses”. According to a written parliamentary reply, the government cannot give access to the specifics of the agreement “to avoid any legal action being taken due to breach of the terms of the agreement”.
“Gay is OK! A Christian Perspective”, a book, was banned under Section 7(1) of the PPPA for content that is allegedly detrimental to public order, morals and public interest. The Home Ministry said its content was viewed as an attempt to promote homosexual culture in Malaysia, which goes against religious and cultural sensitivities in the country. The author, Ngeo Boon Lin, said he will challenge the book ban in court.
Tamil language book “Peichi” was banned under Section 7(1) of the PPPA due to allegations that it contained content that might be detrimental to public order, morals and public interest, specifically, for pornographic content. Believed to be the first local Tamil work to be banned. Peichi author, M. Navin, said his work had been taken out of context and is appealing to the Home Ministry to remove the ban.
Deputy Home Minister Ismail Mohamed Said informed the Dewan Rakyat that existing laws are sufficient to deal with offences related to race and religion and that the police would not hesitate to take action against individuals found to be committing such offences under the Sedition Act, the Penal Code and the Communications and Multimedia Act.
The YDPA, on advice by the Prime Minister, proclaimed a state of emergency on 11 January till 1 August, in the wake of the spike in COVID-19 cases. The emergency suspends Parliament and state assembly sittings, and by-elections and snap polls.
The prime minister stated the emergency is not a “military coup” and “curfew will not be enforced”, yet, he also said that an ordinance can be adopted, as necessary, to provide enforcement powers to the Malaysian Armed Forces.
Immediately following the proclamation of emergency, the Malaysian Multimedia and Communication Commission (MCMC) issued a statement to warn the public that it would monitor the spread of disinformation as well as statements deemed to touch on the sensitivity of the 3Rs – Royalty, Religion and Race. MCMC also said legal actions could be taken under Section 233 of the CMA.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin acknowledged the prevalence of hate speech against a person based on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or nationality, at the ASEAN Digital Ministers’ Meeting. He also called for ASEAN countries to have stricter laws to better tackle online hate speech.
The government said the cost of compensating Singapore for the cancellation of the High-Speed Rail (HSR) project cannot be revealed due to a secrecy clause in the bilateral agreement between both countries. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mustapa Mohamed later promised to reveal the exact figure (subject to both countries agreeing to do so) but that it would be significantly lower than RM891 million (the amount incurred by Singapore for the project).
The police visited publishing house, Gerakbudaya’s office and questioned its publisher, over an investigation into former attorney-general Tommy Thomas’s memoir. A media report claimed that the Home Ministry might consider banning the book for breaching the OSA.
The Registrar of Societies (ROS) rejected applications by Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) and the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) to be registered as official political parties. Both are parties led by former PPBM leaders Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who quit the party after it joined hands with UMNO and PAS to wrest control of the country.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Ahmad Marzuk Shaary said the government does not rule out the possibility of amending the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 or Act 355 to provide for heavier punishments against LGBT peoples. All state religious agencies and enforcers have been instructed to take action against LGBT persons who “do not behave accordingly”.
Student activist Liew Liang Hong was questioned by the police over a Facebook posting he allegedly made, in which he is said to have shared an article on Nov 26 titled “YPDA praises MP – passed the budget in unison to ensure the welfare of the people” with some personal commentary in Chinese. Liew’s mobile phone was confiscated and he was compelled to surrender his Facebook post.
Martin Labo, a member of PKR, was arrested after a police report was lodged against Labo, who is campaigning for the rights of the marginalized Lun Bawang ethnic minority in Lawas that were denied citizenship. Labo had allegedly recently claimed on Facebook that the identification card application of many Lun Bawangs or Dayaks had been rejected and asked if the government was carrying out “systematic ethnic cleansing”. His phone was confiscated. He is being investigated under Section 500 of the Penal Code and Section 223 of the CMA.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was investigated over a statement he allegedly posted online calling on the YDPA to cancel the emergency declaration, under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA. This came after a police report was lodged claiming Anwar had committed sedition by questioning the YDPA’s powers in relation to the emergency proclamation.
Police investigated celebrity Azwan Ali over a video clip that allegedly trivialised the Emergency proclamation. Azwan was called to Bukit Aman to assist in investigations under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA.
The Federal Court ruled that Malaysiakini is guilty of contempt of court, over third-party comments. Malaysiakini was fined RM500,000, while its Editor-In-Chief, Steven Gan, was acquitted.
Police inspected a restaurant in Penang after it was learned that the owner was “decorating” his premises with wallpaper containing elements of communist ideology. The wallpaper was seized and the manager was detained and questioned.
Former attorney-general Tommy Thomas was investigated over the contents in his recently launched memoir, “My Story: Justice in the Wilderness”. Investigations ongoing under Section 500 of the Penal Code, Section 8 of the Official Secrets Act 1972 and Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act.
NGO leader Ramesh Rao was charged for allegedly linking the SRC International trial judge to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, under Section 233 of the CMA.
NGO leader Haridas Kolandavellu was charged with internet abuse under Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA over comments he made on the police force on Facebook two years ago. He had allegedly made racist and insulting remarks against the police by claiming that police officers of Indian descent had protected those running illegal investment schemes.
Police investigated claims that university and college students in the Klang Valley are using an app to find “sugar daddies”. Investigations took place under Section 505 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA, among other laws. The Malaysian Multimedia and Communications Commission (MCMC) later banned sugar dating app Sugarbook’s website. Sugarbook’s founder is later charged in court under Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code.
Police investigated a doctor for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines on social media. Dr Roland Victor allegedly claimed that getting infected by COVID-19 is better than taking the vaccine. Investigations took place under Section 504 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the CMA.
Police initiated an investigation over a viral video where an Indian man claimed he convinced his Muslim wife to convert to Hinduism. Investigations took place under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act, Section 233 of the CMA, and Sections 298 and 505 (c) of the Penal Code.
Police investigated Malaysiakini Editor-In-Chief Steven Gan and Klang MP Charles Santiago for comments made after the Federal Court found Malaysiakini guilty of contempt. Investigations take place under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the CMA.
Lawyer Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz claimed trial for allegedly trying to incite hatred among the different races by saying there was no mention of Chinese or Indians under the Federal Constitution. He was charged under Section 505(c) of the Penal Code.
*Note: This already extensive list is non-exhaustive as there are other individuals who are also being investigated and charged under very repressive laws since PN came to power. Read together, it can be seen as a deliberate and concerted series of actions intended to stifle freedom of expression by silencing dissent and difference in opinions.
The last year also saw positive developments relating to freedom of expression, right to information and media freedom. These are some of the developments:
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah stated he is looking into the CMA, after CIJ asked him about his stand on arbitrary usage of Section 233.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah pledged to amend the National Film Development Corp (Finas) Act, after sparking outrage in Parliament by saying the Act requires that all film production in Malaysia, be it by mainstream media broadcasting or personal social media, must have a filming license.
De Facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassin, in a Parliamentary reply, confirmed that the government is continuing with its initiative towards drafting a Right to Information law, while at the same time ensuring that the security, defence and national sovereignty is well protected.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah informed Parliament that more intensive consultations with stakeholders are needed so that his ministry gets comprehensive feedback to consider having a Malaysian Media Council (MMC).
De Facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan says the government is open to suggestions to review laws, including the OSA.