Support the Right to Freedom of Expression in Malaysia
Y.A.B. DATO SRI MOHD. NAJIB BIN TUN ABDUL RAZAK
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We are greatly troubled by the alarming trend to investigate civil society activists and journalists under the Penal Code, the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publication Act, or the Syariah Criminal Offences Act for exercising their legitimate and peaceful right to discuss, debate, and comment on matters of public interest.
This sets a bad precedent, one that shall only encourage a further deterioration of public civic culture in a democratizing society such as Malaysia. It undermines freedom of speech, and narrows the public space for legitimate dissent.
This trend of growing intolerance for differing opinions in Malaysia, especially on matters of religion, must be halted if Malaysia wants to remain a democracy and plans to sit as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We have noted from various media reports that on February 25th 2010, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (MAIS) has lodged a police report against Sisters in Islam (SIS) because of SIS press statement on the caning of three Muslim women that was announced to have taken place on February 9th 2010. This report by MAIS is one of six lodged against SIS and also against P. Gunasegaram, Managing Editor of The Star for his article Persuasion not Compulsion on February 19th 2010.
We understand that the police have already begun an investigation of SIS under Section 298(A) of the Penal Code for causing, etc., disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will, or prejudicing, etc., the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion.
The Home Ministry has also issued a show-cause letter to The Star and gave the newspaper 14 days to reply as to why action should not be taken against it.
In a modern democratic nation-state, all citizens are entitled to hold, voice, and promote their own views and the media is free to report and comment on issues of public interest. In this instance, the right cannot be restricted to Muslims alone, nor can it be exclusively exercised on their behalf by a small minority.
Furthermore the act of questioning is not legitimately recognised as a criminal offence in any reputable modern Shariah Law jurisdiction. Questions about the nature and structure of state, about the character and tone of its legal system and operation of its legal institutions are the LEGITIMATE BUSINESS of all in Malaysia.
The future of democratic Malaysia lies with the expansion of freedom of expression, not further shrinking of the public space for legitimate and peaceful dissent.