The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is alarmed over the arrests and questioning of citizens for their criticisms towards Kedah Menteri Besar Sanusi Md Nor through their social media profiles.
Public officials must be able to take criticism in stride – especially since there is a higher expectation of accountability and good governance from their end.
Such criticism does not warrant arbitrary arrests and investigations, especially the early morning arrest, which seemed rather an overkill. Dissent and criticism are valid forms of expression and are protected in our Constitution.
No doubt, hate speech and threats of violence and harm are not protected forms of expression and should therefore be restricted. However, in the interests of transparency and accountability and under international standards, a harm test must first be applied to determine legitimacy, necessity and proportionality before attacking and restricting expression.
Furthermore, the four arrests and investigations clearly illustrate double standards and may allude to an abuse of power: for instance, incidents where public officials can get away with making insensitive and crude remarks without being reprimanded, but those who condemn or criticise get arrested instead. This culture must stop. Public officials should be held to account for their actions, and those who speak out against such actions should not be punished.
We demand that the government stop using regressive legal provisions, such as Sections 504 and 505 of the Penal Code and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, to censor and silence dissenting and non-conforming voices. We also call for all investigations into the four individuals and others who are critical or dissenting towards the Kedah menteri besar to be dropped.
We are in solidarity with all those whose freedoms of speech and expression are being restricted in this way.
Wathshlah G Naidu is executive director of the Centre for Independent Journalism