Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the report that Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil has ordered a report to be lodged to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) over a poster accusing him of instructing government-friendly parties to blame Pas for the cancellation of the Good Vibes Festival 2023.
It is a conflict and a clear abuse of ministerial power that a minister has ordered or set in motion an enforcement authority under his direct control for an investigation over an alleged libellous poster made about himself. The ministry and its agencies are not there for Fahmi’s personal benefit, to use for his personal use.
Further, since it is the minister himself who publicly initiates the matter, it puts undue pressure upon the enforcement agency and affects the fairness of the investigation. This should have been obvious to Fahmi.
The right to free speech is the bedrock of our democracy, protected under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. As a minister, Fahmi responsible for upholding it, and more importantly checking himself from using his powers to trample on this right. He cannot on a whim use the authorities under his jurisdiction to subject his political detractors to criminal investigations. Fahmi holds no special status to be free from criticism or to use government machinery to clear his own name.
If Fahmi is aggrieved by the allegedly libellous poster, he is free to file a civil suit for defamation against those responsible, like other ordinary people in Malaysia. Unlike Fahmi, ordinary people do not expect special treatment by enforcement bodies to defend their reputation. There is no legal basis to involve the enforcement authorities simply to clear allegations that were made against Fahmi specifically. Indeed there is a whiff of Stalinism about this kind of ministerial conduct.
We are disappointed that the Pakatan Harapan-led government has displayed no qualms or hesitation in using the full might of government machinery to hound its political opponents ever since it took power. This form of dictatorial style of governance was not what voters hoped to see when the PH-led government was formed.
We urge Minister Fahmi not to abuse his powers in this egregious manner and to withdraw his orders for the MCMC to investigate the allegations made against him in the poster, and to file a civil suit instead, if he so wishes.
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We also strongly urge all government leaders to refrain from using enforcement authorities against critics unless there is an actual threat of violence or injury. Enforcement bodies have no business bothering with ‘injuries’ to the ‘image’ of the PH-led government. In all situations, the government’s image is not a justifiable reason for the limitation of free speech in any manner.
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty