Failure to act against vigilante groups encourages mob justice

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the charge brought against Chiok Wai Loong yesterday at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 for a comment he had made on the “Allah” socks controversy.

He was sentenced to six months’ jail and a RM12,000 fine.

A similar sentence was meted out to Ricky Shane Chagampag in a Sabah court.

First, the six months’ prison sentence is excessive for a first offender. Courts must decide cases based upon facts and disregard the publicity surrounding a case. It is hoped that the High Court will step in under its revisionary jurisdiction to set aside the excessive sentence.

Second, it is a matter of grave concern that Chiok was not represented by a lawyer. This is not surprising considering the speed at which he was arrested and brought to court.

In a case like this, surrounded by public outcry and political issues, it was particularly important for Chiok to have the advice of counsel. What steps were taken by the authorities to ensure Chiok, who was in their custody, had the opportunity to engage the services of a lawyer? Was the National Legal Aid Foundation or the Bar Council Legal Aid Centre informed, if he could not afford one?

Third, it is public knowledge that Chiok’s personal details were made public online and a vigilante group had unlawfully tracked him down and intimidated him into making an online confession. Everyone saw this video, and it was sickening.

While Chiok was arrested and charged and swiftly jailed, what action has been taken against the vigilante group who took the law into their own hands and committed several potential offences? These include offences under Section 503 of the Penal Code for criminal intimidation, Section 505(b) for statements causing mischief and, ironically, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA).

READ MORE:  G25 responds to KK Super Mart socks issue

Why were the police so quick to act against Chiok but have taken no action against this vigilante group? Is mob rule now permitted in Malaysia?

Fourth, are those big political personalities who instigated, agitated and added fuel to the fire, to get off scot-free? These politicians, particularly from Umno, framed what appears to any reasonable person as a supply mistake by KK Super Mart as some kind of full-blown insult to Islam. This led to an active ‘lynch-mob’ campaign against anyone who made comments on the issue, which may be regarded as insensitive by vigilante-type groups.

This is not the first time that Section 233 of the CMA is used in this way and it will not be the last. The provision is a threat to civil liberties because it is vague and, as such, is frequently utilised to prosecute ordinary persons for social media comments. The mob that threatens and “doxxes” the individual, however, is allowed to do so unabated, without any action by the authorities.

Social media posts by unknown individuals do not harm the fabric of society; roadside justice and the public disgracing of individuals for perceived slights, however, is harmful behaviour that must be combated and met with stern action.

The law is not to be executed at the whims and fancies of the group that cries out the loudest. The decision to prosecute the men under Section 233 of the CMA amounts to selective prosecution, which is repugnant to the rule of law.

Despite the government’s seeming fervour to clamp down on social media for racial or religious hatred, it is unable to distinguish between ignorant or idiotic behaviour and actual harmful conduct.

READ MORE:  Combating vigilantism: Sisters in Islam responds to 'sock gate'

It is pandering to overzealous bigots when it comes to racial and religious controversies, despite the disastrous long-term result it may bring to the cohesion of Malaysian society.

Tolerance of this kind of behaviour could lead to more drastic action by mobs later on that could result in physical injury or even loss of life.

LFL reminds the government it has a duty to maintain the social fabric of our multicultural and multi-religious society. Such duty is not confined to criminal prosecutions but must be primarily addressed through holistic, open dialogue of communication and education. – LFL

Zaid Malek is a 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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