Not standing up for national anthem is freedom of expression

Lee Chung Lun

Modified 2 Oct 2019, 12:31 am

LETTER | Another chaos happened on social media when a video went viral showing some Sarawak for Sarawakians (S4S) members refusing to stand up when the national anthem was played. In response, police have called them up for investigation under the National Anthem Act.

During the National Day celebrations this year, several incidents of the Jalur Gemilang found flying upside down brought heated responses online as well. Police then arrested an elderly couple for hanging the national flag upside down at their premises.

Many said those who did so are disrespecting our national symbols and therefore should be punished or even have their citizenship revoked.

The question is, should "disrespecting" national symbols be a criminal offence?

Disrespecting national symbols has often been done as a protest against a government or a country, including one’s own. In the S4S case, they explained that it was a silent protest to show their dissatisfaction over unfulfilled promises to Sarawak.

Many are strongly annoyed and offended by such a protest and this is completely understandable. However, the act of “disrespecting” national symbols causes neither any harm to anyone nor is it a disturbance of peace and order in society.

It is still a legitimate form of freedom of expression that is fundamental in a democracy. A mature democracy should allow everyone to freely express dissent without the state interfering.

As a citizen, you may also express your disagreement and anger towards such an act and even call them ignorant and unpatriotic.

Nevertheless, being less patriotic or offensive is not a crime. The authority should never use its power to prosecute these people just because a majority in society find it offensive.

The national anthem and national flag should remind us that our nation was founded upon the principles of liberty. 

The people’s liberty to express their views, including “unpatriotic” ones, is more important than the protection of national symbols. 

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

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