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LETTER | Growing use of S233 of Communications Act a big concern

LETTER | Gerakan Guaman Rakyat (Gegar) is concerned about the growing trend of using Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act to investigate and prosecute individuals speaking out against the establishment.

The section infringes an individual’s freedom of speech provided under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and is often used to strong-arm and silence any voice of dissent against the authorities.

We live in a day and age where our comments and thoughts on government policies, policymakers and leaders can be instantly shared and discussed with others via social media.

Initiatives like #KitaJagaKita and #BenderaPutih are all examples of people playing an active role in safeguarding one another with the vast network that social media provides.

However, instead of welcoming active participation and initiative by the people to repair its own shortcomings, the government instead uses this Communications and Multimedia Act to restrict the voice of the people.

Yesterday, four people were charged under Section 233 of the Act at the Sessions Court in Malacca, whereas two prominent activists were called in to give statements at IPD Dang Wangi for investigations under the same section.

According to lawyer Purshotaman Puvanendran, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act criminalises any speech made with the intention to “annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person”.

This section was introduced to curb the cyberbullying of internet users. Later on, during the pandemic, the government used the section to curb “fake news” about Covid-19 that were widely circulated.

However, the section is also notoriously used to “protect the feelings” of elites, instead of being used to curb cyberbullying.

Moreover, the wordings of the section are ambiguous with the usage of words such as “offensive” and “annoy”, which seem to create confusion and subjective as well as selective interpretations.

Previously, in 2018, Pakatan Harapan’s then communications and multimedia minister Gobind Singh Deo declared that there was a moratorium on the enforcement of this section, following a proposal by the government to amend it to prevent the abuse of the draconian elements of the section.

Then, the change in government and lack of political will after this change led to the section still being used, in fact rampantly to stifle political dissent.

I hope that, should there be a new government to be formed in the next few days, this new government will look into this law and repeal the section as stated by lawyer Purshotaman.

M JAY RAJ is director of the NGO Gerakan Guaman Rakyat (Gegar).

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

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