Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the ongoing police investigation of Lim Kit Siang, who was called to give a statement to the police regarding his remark that the Malaysian Constitution does not say that a non-Malay cannot be a prime minister.
It also refers to reports stating that the Selangor menteri besar’s press secretary, Jay Jay Dennis, will be charged in court over a post on X criticising the Malacca Governor, Ali Rustam, for using a police convoy whilst going out for a family dinner.
The actions of the police in both these instances are an affront to the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of expression under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.
This right is strong and entrenched and can only be limited in very limited circumstances, as stipulated under Article 10(2)(a), such as when it affects national security, public order and morality.
Lim Kit Siang, whose statement is accurate in accordance with the Federal Constitution, was merely stating a fact when he pronounced that there is nothing that bars a non-Malay from becoming a prime minister.
The fact that some people have taken offence to the statement cannot justify a criminal investigation.
It is nonsensical that there is a criminal offence committed for stating a fact about our Constitution. Hence, this is a nonsensical investigation into a non-existent crime which brings the administration of justice into mockery and disrepute.
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In a similar vein, it is equally appalling that the Attorney General’s Chambers has decided to bring criminal charges against Jay Jay Dennis for his statement questioning the conduct of a high-ranking government official.
The law confers no special status to anyone in government, whether a governor or a prime minister, to be protected against criticism and to criminalise such criticisms is high-handed and undemocratic.
Citing a constitutional fact or criticising the conduct of anyone in government is an exercise of free speech that cannot in any way be construed to be an act that is contrary to national security, public order or morality.
By allowing Lim Kit Siang to be investigated and Jay Jay Dennis to be charged in court, the federal government is in direct violation of the Constitution and is sending an unhealthy message that they are beyond criticism and reproach.
The Pakatan Harapan-led government that purports to be champions of free speech seems to lack understanding of what it entails. It is the very essence of a healthy democracy for there to be an exchange of ideas or criticisms of the government by members of the public; it is after all a political system where the people are empowered to choose their government and, as such, the people must be allowed to discuss matters of public interest freely.
The protection of free speech enshrined in the Constitution serves this very purpose, and exists to ensure that all quarters, not just the perceived majority, are able to exercise this right.
Thus, LFL urges the government to halt any and all investigations of Lim Kit Siang regarding his statement and for the Attorney General’s Chambers to withdraw the charge against Jay Jay Dennis.
The PH-led government must stay true to its dedication to the protection of freedom of speech and, as such, must ensure that the public are protected from unwarranted criminal action for the legitimate exercise of their constitutional right. – LFL
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty