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) decries the unprecedented crackdown on the freedom of expression in 2015. In less than 50 days this year, the police have detained or investigated at least 23 individuals in relation to statements that they have made. (See table below) Many of these investigations have been carried out under the Sedition Act, a draconian piece of legislation that is incredibly broad and can easily be used for selective prosecution and to silence those critical of the government.
In addition, several individuals were found guilty and/or sentenced to prison for speech-related offences. Blogger Azimudin Ahmat was sentenced to three months imprisonment for contempt of court in relation to a defamation suit, activist Hishamuddin Rais was found guilty of sedition and fined RM5,000 and blogger Yusuf al-Siddique Suratman (Milosuam) was sentenced to two years jail under the Penal Code, section 505. Dozens of other individuals are awaiting trial for sedition or criminal defamation.
CIJ is alarmed that the police are investigating statements that do not constitute direct and immediate threats to national security, public order or public morality. These statements range from questioning the actions of government agencies such as the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) or the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) or seemingly innocuous tweets that mock the government. In the wake of the Federal Court decision upholding the conviction and five-year sentence against Anwar Ibrahim, the police have become even more vigilant in shutting down any questions about the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
We have deviated a long way from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s historic declaration on 15 Sep 2011 that the Internal Security Act would be abolished and Malaysia would increase civil liberties as it was necessary for our survival. More than three years on, it appears that the move towards increasing civil liberties was more of a false promise by the Barisan Nasional government to ensure its own survival. And having not performed as they had hoped in the May 2013 election, it appears that the government is rolling back on Najib’s historic promise, and trying instead to clamp down on dissent and criticism, again to ensure the Barisan Nasional’s continued hold on power. Rather than abolishing the Sedition Act as Najib promised, the government instead has announced that it intends to amend the Act to strengthen it. How this already draconian act can be amended to further curb freedom of expression is extremely worrying.
Charges/Investigations relating to freedom of expression in 2015
|10 Jan 2015||Couple in Kota Baru||Detained for spreading false information via Whatsapp regarding the flood situation in Kelantan(False Whatsapp message on flood lands couple in trouble)||Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA), s.233|
|16 Jan 2015||DAP member of Parliament Ko Chung Sen||Investigated in relation to a statement questioning the need to make the subject Islamic civilisation compulsory in all private universities. (Cops quiz MP over ‘Islamic civilisation’ subject)||Sedition Act|
|28 Jan 2015||Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque (Zunar)||Office raided and 155 books seized (Zunar’s office raided again, 155 books seized)||PPPA, s.2Sedition Act, s.4(1)(c)|
|30 Jan 2015||Twitter user @Fazel||IGP Khalid Abu Bakar orders probe in relation to tweet that MH370’s disappearance was a conspiracy, not an accident (IGP orders probe on Twitter user for suggesting MH370 conspiracy)||CMA|
|1 Feb 2015||Nine individuals in Sabah||Arrested for distributing pamphlets calling for secession of Sabah and Sarawak (Sabahans nabbed over ‘separatist’ pamphlets)||Sedition Act, s.4(1)|
|5 Feb 2015||Lawyer and activist Eric Paulsen||Arrested in relation to a tweet stating that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) was spreading extremism through their Friday sermons. Later charged. (Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen charged with sedition)||Sedition Act|
|9 Feb 2015||Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob||Gave statement to the police in relation to a Facebook statement that Chinese traders who did not lower prices should be boycotted. (Ismail Sabri gives police statement over controversial boycott call)||Penal Code, section 505(b)|
|9 Feb 2015||Former member of Parliement N Gobalakrishnan||Detained and handphone seized for a tweet stating that the police were backing a gang that dealt drugs. (Former MP Gobalakrishnan detained for investigation on Twitter posting)||Not specified|
|10 Feb 2015||Cartoonist Zunar||Arrested for a tweet making allusions about the judiciary being controlled by political masters after Federal Court decision upholding conviction of Anwar Ibrahim. (Cops arrest political cartoonist Zunar)||Sedition Act, s.4(1)(c)|
|10 Feb 2015||Members of Parliament Nga Kor Ming, Rafizi Ramli||Following the decision on Anwar, IGP called for probe in relation to Nga’s tweet about people opposing the despotic (“zalim”) regime and Rafizi’s tweet of a picture of a judge. (IGP orders sedition probe against DAP MP, cartoonist over tweets on Anwar’s case)||Sedition Act|
|11 Feb 2015||Penang state executive councillor Chong Eng||Questioned by police in relation to a statement that was critical of a sermon issued by the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) for implying that women covering themselves up could prevent rape. (Police question Penang exco over Jais criticisms)||Penal Code, s 298 – deliberately wounding the religious feelings of any person|
|11 Feb 2015||PKR reformation movement Jingga 13’s head Fariz Musa and Penang state executive councilor Dr Afif Bahardin||Investigated for calling on Anwar’s supporters to be ready to overthrow the government (Five under probe for alleged seditious remarks)||Sedition Act|
|11 Feb 2015||Parti Sosialis Malaysia secretary-general S Arutchelvan||Investigated for stating the decision against Anwar was politically motivated (Five under probe for alleged seditious remarks)||Sedition Act|