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Defending freedom of expression in ‘new’ Malaysia

Kua Kia Soong  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | What a breath of fresh air it was to read activist lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri’s thought-provoking musings ("Don't kiss the hand that beats you") on the meaning of freedom and dignity and the levels of social constraints that still shackle us despite the illusion of democracy when we vote once every five years.

Her thoughts are the stuff of academic discussions in institutions of higher learning of substance anywhere in the world and one would hope, also in “new” Malaysia.

Unfortunately, we hear that Fadiah is under investigation over this same article deemed “seditious” (sic) for questioning the royal institution.

She has been summoned to appear at the Brickfields police station after a report was lodged over her article, and we have learnt that the police are investigating her under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 by the old regime claims to “develop 21st-century skills such as critical and creative thinking” and further laments that our graduates lack critical thinking and communication skills.

Our new education minister started off with progressive-sounding resolutions when he was just appointed, but straightaway we are confronted with a real-life case of the old one-size-fits-all gagging methods by the police using the colonial Sedition Act 1948 and the rectal Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA).

The education minister should have a word with the new home minister and the police about harmonising the need for creative and critical thinking with the needs of homeland security and insecurity of our local elite.

A fundamental liberty

The police should be reminded that Article 10 of our constitution guarantees Malaysians the freedom of expression. The article written by Fadiah certainly did not constitute incitement to hatred or violence.

She was expressing an opinion on an issue of public interest, namely the nature of our constitutional monarchy in the light of recent events following GE14. Our doyens in the local varsity departments of social science should congratulate her for contributing to this constructive and intellectually stimulating political discourse.

Her right to freedom of expression as a social activist and intellectual must be respected because such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broad-mindedness that our founding fathers and mothers wanted for our democratic society and especially now, the supposedly “new” Malaysia.

In the “new” Malaysia, we do not expect the police to jump whenever someone makes a police report against anyone or any organisation. Apart from the wanton waste of taxpayers’ money, acting on frivolous police reports simply makes our police force look foolish.

It is the responsibility of the inspector-general of police and the home minister to ensure that there is a standard operating procedure for the police to sieve through police reports and to finally decide which report to bin and which to take further action on. Only when the police believe there is a case to take action should anybody be called in take statements.

One would expect the person or persons who make that final decision to be well-schooled in the humanities and in human rights besides the rudiments of policing. Clearly, the police hierarchy in a “new” Malaysia needs to possess sufficient maturity and calibre to decide what is offensive, sexist, racist or anti-human rights and what promotes “creative and critical thinking” as stated in the Education Blueprint.

It is time for the police to be fully accountable for their actions and not to act like mindless automatons whenever some joker decides to make a police report against a respectable concerned Malaysian or NGO.

No pussyfooting on manifesto promises

The new Harapan government should take note: From the continuing reports of child marriages and unilateral conversions to the recognition of the UEC, we are seeing more and more examples of pussyfooting by the Harapan government over their manifesto promises.

We certainly do not intend to see any backtracking by the new Harapan government over their promise to abolish the totally discredited colonial law, the Sedition Act and to remove the irksome portions of the CMA that were used by the old regime against so many activists and leaders in civil society as well as opposition leaders who are now in the ruling government.

So, the African-American social critic Dick Gregory was not just trying to be funny when he quipped: “Political promises are much like marriage vows for some people…They are made at the beginning of the relationship between candidate and voter but are quickly forgotten.”

Suaram says: Hands off Fadiah. Respect her right to freedom of expression. Abolish the Sedition Act now.

KUA KIA SOONG is Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) adviser.

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

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