KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 — Human rights watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has condemned the arrest of Kean Wong — the editor of a controversial banned book — and called for his immediate release.
Its executive director Sevan Doraisamy said Suaram strongly denounces the arrest and overnight detention of Wong by police over a book cover featuring a modified national coat-of-arms published three years ago.
He said Wong has also been unjustifiably retained in the police’s suspect list and subject to arrest upon return to Malaysia since 2020.
“As the flagbearer of institutional reform, it is a moral imperative that this government take concrete steps in protecting and upholding freedom of expression for all.
“We thus demand that Wong be immediately released,” he said in a statement here.
Sevan was commenting on the arrest of Wong who is the editor of the controversial book titled Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope in New Malaysia.
The book was banned on July 1, 2020, under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) Order 2020. At the time, the book was also the subject of an investigation where the book’s cover had allegedly insulted the Malaysian federal coat of arms.
Wong is currently held at the Dang Wangi district police headquarters and is being investigated for sedition.
Sevan said Suaram also called for the repeal, with moratorium on its use, of existing laws that curtail freedom of expression including the Sedition Act 1948 and Section 233 of the Communication and Multimedia Act 1998.
He said the book cover featuring a modified national coat-of-arms was already clarified three years ago that the image concerned was from an oil painting, which was even at one point publicly exhibited six years prior in 2014 with no issues when the Barisan Nasional administration was still in power.
“Through the re-enactment of draconian tactics of arrest and detention, it is worryingly clear that we have before us a government with a precarious commitment to upholding our fundamental freedom of expression and a police force with concerningly misplaced priorities when these resources could have been better used to deter serious crimes that jeopardise public safety.
“Equally important, the problematic environment in which critical debate on issues of public interest and artistic expression continues to be criminalised and censored remains intact, especially because draconian laws such as the Sedition Act remain in place,” said Sevan.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in a statement said Wong’s arrest and investigation was indicative of how the state has used its authority to censor fellow Malaysians’ freedom of expression as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Its executive director Wathshlah G. Naidu said Wong’s arrest three years after the publication of the book showcases the state’s commitment to suppressing the public’s ability to both inform the public and to speak out no matter how warranted.
“CIJ implores the authorities to release Wong with immediate effect so that they may demonstrate that they continue to uphold the rights bestowed upon the public by the Federal Constitution,” she said.
On July 10, 2020, the then inspector-general of police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador said police were looking for Wong to assist in the investigation into the controversial book’s cover.
Wong was then reported to be in Australia as he was also a permanent resident of the country.
The investigation regarding the publication of the book started on June 29, 2020, after the police received several reports.