Probe against protests may count as harassment, Suhakam says amid fears of clampdown

Protesters gather in front of the Sogo shopping complex during the Save Malaysia Demonstration on March 1, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Protesters gather in front of the Sogo shopping complex during the Save Malaysia Demonstration on March 1, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has reiterated today that Malaysians’ freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

Amid a series of investigation on protesting activists, Suhakam warned that such a move by authorities can be conceived as violation of such rights and also harassment.

“Harassment and action taken against those expressing their dissatisfaction against events surrounding the appointment of the Prime Minister may constitute a violation of these rights,” it said in a statement.

“Police investigations against expressions of dissent may constitute a form of harassment and, if left unchecked, may create a chilling effect in which citizens self-censor or restrain themselves from fully exercising their right to freedom of expression in fear of threats of legal sanctions.”

It also said that expression of legitimate criticisms and grievances indicates a mature and open democracy where it is possible to publicly and peacefully disagree.

“Such disagreements should not be punished as they are often the sole avenue for citizens to express their feelings of disenfranchisement,” it said.

However, it also warned that expression which spread, incite, promote, stir up or justify racial or religious hatred, intolerance or racism can be restricted.

“Suhakam hopes that Malaysia’s continuing positive journey towards a maturing space for civil liberties and basic freedoms will be strongly supported by all enforcement agencies and that public expressions of dissatisfaction will receive a measured and lenient approach from the authorities,” it added.

Earlier today, human rights activist Nalini Elumalai said she and 13 others have been summoned to the Dang Wangi district police headquarters here over their participation in a public demonstration on Sunday.

Police said last week they have opened a sedition investigation against lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, who spoke at back-to-back rallies last week to protest against the power tussle that caused the PH administration to collapse and helped install a new government led by Muhyiddin.

The authorities also have also launched investigations against vocal human rights activists Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and Datin Marina Mahathir after the two attended a separate gathering organised by the Save Malaysia Committee on Sunday.

Muhyiddin, who was appointed as the country’s eighth prime minister amid controversy over his nomination, is now the leader of a loose coalition called Perikatan Nasional that includes the former ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional.

The police investigations against the activists have raised concern that the new government was clamping down on dissent and signalled the return of the days of BN’s rule.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador, however, pledged on Monday that the police would continue to respect the public’s right to free expression, but stressed that dissent must be within legal boundaries.

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