Growing intolerance of free speech in Malaysia

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There are worrying signs that the public space for freedom of expression is being further restricted, observes Chris Chong.

Poster-solidarity-Zunar

The space to voice out one’s opinion in Malaysia is extremely restricted.

The crackdown on various sectors of society to silence dissent is still continuing. Of all the victims of this crackdown, the case of the political cartoonist Zunar is unique. He is being investigated under three different laws, i.e. the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Sedition Act and the Penal Code, while others were just charged under the Sedition Act.

His works have won international recognition. In 2011, Zunar was conferred the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award by the Cartoonist Rights Network International, a cartoonists’ rights NGO based in Washington, USA. In October 2014, one of Zunar’s books Pirates of the Carry-BN was accepted into the Library of Congress in Washington.

And now, the police are looking for people who bought his works online by asking an online payment gateway to hand over a list of his customers. This is a worrying sign that the public space is being further restricted.

The growing intolerance of difference of opinions is not only found in the public space but also in academia. This is surprising as a key raison d’etere of academia is to nurture critical thought and opinion among students.

But Universiti Malaya seems to think otherwise. It barred its most famous alumnus, Anwar Ibrahim, who was invited by the Students Council, from going to the campus to give a speech. Subsequently, the organising committee faced disciplinary action from the university authority.

Finally, in the face of growing political extremism in the country, many members of civil society have come together to form the Negara-Ku People’s Movement whose aim is to remind ordinary Malaysians of the spirit of the Constitution, which envisions an inclusive nation. Negaraku People’s Movement is currently holding a roadshow across the country.

Chris Chong,

Co-editor, Aliran e-Newsletter

25 November 2014

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