Malaysiakini Letter

Arrests for 'insults' demonstrate need for legal reform

Nalini Elumalai
Published:

LETTER | ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by the recent arrest of four individuals in relation to social media posts touching on issues of race and religion. 

A statement by the CID director asserted that the detainees - three men and a woman - were being investigated for possible violations of the Penal Code and Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA). 

According to the statement, the relevant social media posts included language insulting to Islam, prophets and the Malay people and remarks that constituted a breach of the peace.

Article 19 has consistently called for the reform of the Penal Code and Communications and Multimedia Act and reported on the use of these and other laws to restrict freedom of expression.

These arrests are further evidence of the need to reform or repeal the restrictive provisions that are scattered across Malaysia’s legal framework. 

The overly broad provisions in the Penal Code and CMA are ripe for abuse. Investigations and prosecutions seem to ebb and flow according to popular sentiment and the whims of the authorities.

Malaysia needs to abandon the idea that the mere act of causing offence is justification for arrest and prosecution. This approach has no place in a democratic society and is antithetical to the right to freedom of expression.

The arbitrary and inconsistent application of criminal law is alarming, to say the least, and underscores the government’s willingness to suppress unpopular speech. 

The Pakatan Harapan coalition’s promises to reform repressive laws seem to recede further into the distance with every new arrest.


The writer is the Malaysia programme officer for Article 19, a human rights NGO which aims to reduce the implementation gap between law and practice.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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