We, the undersigned civil society organisations, strongly condemn the continued use of repressive laws as tools of suppression by the new Malaysian government to silence dissent and opposing views.
We note that since the change of government at the federal level in March this year, the state has been increasingly using Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and laws such as the Sedition Act 1948, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 and Sections 504 and 505 of the Penal Code to silence freedom of expression, speech and assembly. We find such attempts to be similar to strategic lawsuits against public participation tactics where legal action is brought against human rights defenders with the intention to censor, intimidate and silence critics until they abandon their criticism.
This is an especially dangerous form of retaliation from the government because of its potential to create a wider chilling effect on the media, civil society and activists, but disguised as a legitimate lawsuit.
We have documented the following cases where members of the media, human rights defenders and activists, as well as opposition political members, were brought in for questioning and/or charged and arrested for exercising their right to expression by raising critical questions or participating in peaceful assemblies through a broad range of laws and state apparatus.
This already extensive list is non-exhaustive as there are other individuals who are also being investigated and charged under these laws since the formation of the new federal government less than four months ago. Read together, it can be seen as a deliberate and concerted series of actions intended to silence dissent and difference in opinions.
Freedom of speech, expression, assembly and association is clearly enshrined under international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in Article 10 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution. These norms and freedoms underpin the fundamental right to seek, to receive and exchange ideas, opinions and information that would enable the public to form their own opinions and allow for dissenting or alternative positions, specifically on issues of public interests. They are critical in the functioning of a working and healthy democracy, which includes strengthening the rule of law, combating corruption in all spheres of society and the promotion of good governance.
Limits and restrictions on any forms of freedom of expression in law must be clear and narrowly defined, and serve a well-defined public interest function. These restrictions must meet the harm test to determine legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. Here, a range of actors are targeted for raising critical questions, or for simply raising visibility on potential human rights violations and abuse. This is grossly disproportionate to any legitimate aim of protecting public order. Any government that is too quick to put the weight of the state apparatus against dissenting voices and opinions is one that raises alarm bells for a functioning democratic system. Critical voices are at the heart of transparency and accountability to check and balance state power.
Preventing misinformation and disinformation is not a reason to restrict access to information both online and offline, and cannot justify the use of laws to silence critics. Heads of state and public officials should tolerate more, not less, criticism than ordinary citizens. The government cannot be exempted from the consequences of their actions and there should be no impunity for those that limit freedom of opinion and expression through threats, harassment and violence.
Following this slightly more than 100 days of intensified silencing and suppression of dissenting voices, we call on the government and its other state apparatus, to:
- End and refrain from the continued use of these intimidating measures and repressive laws to threaten and silence those exercising their fundamental human rights and speaking on behalf of the public and those marginalised in these very trying times and halt all ongoing investigations
- Withdraw all charges against human rights defenders, media and opposition members who are being investigated or charged under the above-mentioned repressive laws
- Enact a right to information law and repeal or amend repressive laws such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Sedition Act and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, so that these laws are not utilised arbitrarily to stifle all manner of speech
- Create an enabling environment that promotes critical thinking, healthy debates, transparency and accountability from the government as well as measures focused on building the people’s trust in the government – not further undermining the people’s human rights.
End this culture of bullying and suppression now!
Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
Endorsed by the following groups:
- Agora Society Malaysia
- Amnesty International Malaysia
- Association of Women Lawyers
- Beyond Borders Malaysia
- Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
- C4 Centre
- Freedom Film Network (FFN)
- Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm)
- Gerakan Pembebasan Akademik (GPA)
- Hindu Agamam Ani Malaysia
- Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
- Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit)
- Justice for Sisters
- Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) Youth Section
- Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) Women’s Division
- Kryss Network
- Maju Foundation
- North-South Initiative (NSI)
- Our Journey
- PEN Malaysia
- Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak)
- Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
- Pusat Komas
- Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
- Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
- Sinar Project
- Sisters in Islam (SIS)
- Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham)
- Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
- Students Unity Front UKM
- Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0)
- To Earth With Love
- University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany)
- UTM-MJIIT Voices
- Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)