Freedom a right, not a privilege, forum told

Azmi also said that for those in power, freedom is viewed as an irritant and a threat to their dominance. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Azmi also said that for those in power, freedom is viewed as an irritant and a threat to their dominance. — Picture by Choo Choy May

PETALING JAYA, April 3 — The belief that imposing restrictions on civil liberties is necessary for national security is a misconception that should be rejected, law academic Azmi Sharom said today, insisting that freedom is a right and not a privilege.

Speaking at a forum entitled “Liberty or Security: You Choose”, Azmi said the government has to do more to convince the public why it needed to enact more restrictive laws, and said the public had every right to reject them should they curb their right to hold those in power accountable.

“This is a common misconception — the need to balance security and liberty. Freedom is a given, not a privilege like what some clown said,” Azmi told the forum, without specifying who he was referring to.

“Freedom is a right. If they want to have more security laws, they must justify to us why. We don’t have to justify to them (why we can reject them) as freedom is our right,” he said, drawing applause from the audience.

In a March 3 blog posting, Multimedia and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak said freedom of speech has its limits and must be seen as a privilege that can be taken away if abused, instead of an absolute right.

Despite his pledge to improve civil liberties prior to the 13th national polls, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s government moved to introduce more security laws and amend existing legislation like the Sedition Act that critics say effectively widened state powers to crack down on dissent.

Recently, Salleh confirmed Malay Mail Online’s report that the government plans to regulate the Internet, including having news portals and blogs registered.

He said the proposal was needed to curb the dissemination of false news and rumours, for the sake of “national security”.

Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni said such laws are intended to intimidate critics from voicing their discontent, but urged them not cave in.

“I think they want you to be afraid of or unsure about posting something, but you have to keep on posting it,” she told the forum.

Azmi went on to say that for those in power, freedom is viewed as an irritant and a threat to their dominance.

“To them, human rights is an impediment,” he said.

Almost a year ago, government lawmakers passed amendments to expand the Sedition Act to include offences committed on the Internet, which has been an opposition-dominated campaigning platform that was said to have contributed to its growing influence since 2008.

The move met fierce opposition as critics alleged the amendments were clearly aimed at silencing dissidents, but Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi insisted that they were necessary to protect Malaysians on the Internet.

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