THE Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) decries the unprecedented crackdown on the freedom of expression in 2015. In less than 50 days this year, the police have detained or investigated at least 23 individuals in relation to statements that they have made. Many of these investigations have been carried out under the Sedition Act, a draconian piece of legislation that is incredibly broad and can easily be used for selective prosecution and to silence those critical of the government.
In addition, several individuals were found guilty and/or sentenced to prison for speech-related offences. Blogger Azimudin Ahmat was sentenced to three months imprisonment for contempt of court in relation to a defamation suit, activist Hishamuddin Rais was found guilty of sedition and fined RM5,000 and blogger Yusuf al-Siddique Suratman (Milosuam) was sentenced to two years jail under the Penal Code, section 505. Dozens of other individuals are awaiting trial for sedition or criminal defamation.
CIJ is alarmed that the police are investigating statements that do not constitute direct and immediate threats to national security, public order or public morality. These statements range from questioning the actions of government agencies such as the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) or the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) or seemingly innocuous tweets that mock the government. In the wake of the Federal Court decision upholding the conviction and five-year sentence against Anwar Ibrahim, the police have become even more vigilant in shutting down any questions about the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
We have deviated a long way from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s historic declaration on 15 September 2011 that the Internal Security Act would be abolished and Malaysia would increase civil liberties as it was necessary for our survival. More than three years on, it appears that the move towards increasing civil liberties was more of a false promise by the Barisan Nasional government to ensure its own survival. And having not performed as they had hoped in the May 2013 election, it appears that the government is rolling back on Najib’s historic promise, and trying instead to clamp down on dissent and criticism, again to ensure the Barisan Nasional’s continued hold on power. Rather than abolishing the Sedition Act as Najib promised, the government instead has announced that it intends to amend the Act to strengthen it. How this already draconian act can be amended to further curb freedom of expression is extremely worrying. Clamping down on critical voices and clinging on to power is a selfish and short-sighted move and will only bring detriment to all Malaysians. For us to function, let alone prosper, as a nation, there needs to be voices that can hold those in power to account. This will create a government that is more responsible, more efficient and less corrupt.
CIJ calls on the government to put aside short-sighted measures and to act in the greater good – to stop its clampdown on freedom of expression and to abide by the Federal Constitution and international standards of human rights law.