Anwar must withdraw threat to the public for comments on the casino issue

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s speech yesterday in which he threatened imprisonment for anyone making statements regarding a Bloomberg news report that there were talks over the opening of a casino in Johor’s Forest City.

Anwar’s threat is unlawful, unprecedented and chilling. It is not the job or power of the prime minister to threaten arrest or imprisonment against the public. Neither is it his job to decide whether anyone has committed any crime.

That is the role of the relevant enforcement body and the judiciary. The PM has no business to usurp that role. Only in a Marcos-style regime does the head of the executive threaten the people with imprisonment for making comments.

This type of authoritarian threat is shocking coming from a leader once seen as a leading advocate for reform in Malaysia.

Under our democratic Constitution, the prime minister has no authority to threaten the public with imprisonment for commenting on any public interest matter, even if the comments are wrong-headed. By any standards, this is a lurch towards authoritarian rule.

The alleged discussions on the casino were reported by Bloomberg, a reputable international news organisation, and public comments regarding the issue relate to this news.

Similarly, the 1MDB corruption issue was exposed by foreign news agencies such as the Wall Street Journal, leading to Anwar and Pakatan Harapan leaders making serious allegations against then Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Under Najib, police action was taken against those speaking out on the issue, just as Anwar is threatening imprisonment to all and sundry who talk about the casino issue.

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In short, whether or not the allegations are true, the PM cannot resort to  criminal law to shut down public discussions. He can refute the allegations or take civil action, but he cannot imprison people for talking about it or asking questions about it.

It is the right of any member of the public to discuss this issue in the exercise of their right under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

Article 10 was once much relied upon by Anwar and his colleagues in PH when they were in opposition and facing police action for criticism of the then governments. Now they appear to regard it as a nuisance.

Anwar or the government has taken no steps to ask for the casino story to be retracted. Neither have they taken any form of legal action against Bloomberg or other news sites regarding the claims. The news remains available online for anyone to access.

Having chosen not to do this, why instead target the Malaysian public who comment on the news or express concern or criticisms in relation to it?

Anwar’s claim that this threat to the public on the casino issue was necessary to safeguard the royal institution ignores the fact that the main questions have been directed against Anwar’s own alleged involvement in casino talks.

The PM cannot hide behind the royal institution in order to shut down public criticism or comment against himself.

LFL also notes that there is now a pattern of conduct where the PM invokes the royal institution as an excuse to wield oppressive laws such as the Sedition Act. This backdoor way of justifying denial of freedom of speech and the use of oppressive laws must stop.

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Anwar must immediately retract his unlawful threat to imprison the public over comments on the casino issue. To quote his own words, his threat is indeed “undemocratic, harsh and iron-fisted”, and it augurs ill for Malaysian democracy. – LFL

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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Orang Ulu
Orang Ulu
3 May 2024 7.14am

Abusing power. Gallivanting the globe on for unproductive causes. Distributing public funds to gain support.