Suaram: Malaysia must stop threatening freedom of expression

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Photograph: Fahmi Reza

The attorney general would do well to remember that any attempt to use his power to protect and preserve the integrity of a political party is a blatant misuse of power, says Sevan Doraisamy.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) condemns Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali’s statement with regard to his proposal to amend  the Official Secrets Act 1972, his ‘threat’ against the media and the Royal Malaysian Police’s undue warning against artists and activists through social media.

The strengthening of the Official Secrets Act 1972 and the proposed curb and threat of prosecution against the media can only be interpreted as an assault on the freedom of expression and freedom of information.

Official Secrets Act 1972 and threat against media

The importance of the freedom of expression cannot be discounted. The importance of this right is repeated in various international documents and bill of rights. Freedom of expression is not only enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is also enshrined in the Asean Human Rights Declaration, which Malaysia is a party to.

Furthermore, freedom of expression is also provided for under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. Beyond human rights, the freedom of expression and of information serves as the foundation of any democratic state. The denial of these rights can only be permitted under the direst of circumstances with no better alternatives available.

Any act of curbing or limiting freedom of expression and information must be justifiable. The recent suggestion put forward by the attorney general is not only unjustified but a blatant attempt to silence dissent and prevent revelations that would harm the ruling party.

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The attorney general would do well to remember that any attempt to use his power to protect and preserve the integrity of a political party is a blatant misuse of power and must not happen in Malaysia.

Monitoring of artists and satirical material shared on social media

The surveillance and monitoring of social media posting of satirical materials by artists and activists is excessive and unjustified. The recent statement issued by the Royal Malaysian Police against artist and activist Fahmi Reza for his posting of a satirical image of a select government leader is a clear attempt to intimidate the public against any dissent and criticism of the government.

Recalling the nature of office held by any government official, public scrutiny and criticism is part of the democratic process that serves as the foundation of Malaysia. Satirical images and comments made against government officials should not be considered a crime.

The statement issued by the Royal Malaysian Police would directly and indirectly prevent positive discourse on matters relating to national interest and jeopardise the democratic space and freedom of expression of all Malaysians.

Suaram condemns all unjustified attempts to limit and curtail the freedom of expression and freedom of information as suggested by the attorney general and strongly condemns the act of intimidation by the Royal Malaysian Police through its warning to Fahmi Reza.

Suaram reminds the government and all enforcement agencies of the promises made by the government in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) specifically in the context of the abolition of the Sedition Act 1948 and the protection and promotion of civil and political Rights.

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Failure to ensure the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and freedom of information would most certainly be contrary to the promises made during the previous UPR and devastate what is left of Malaysia’s dignity and respect in the international arena.

Sevan Doraisamy is executive director of human rights group Suaram.

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