JULY 30 — We refer to the recent move by the Malaysian government to introduce the Religious and Racial Hatred Act.
The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (Comango) applauds the effort of the government in taking proactive steps to ensure racial and religious harmony in multicultural, multi-religious and multiracial Malaysia. However, we caution the government from turning this into a law criminalising blasphemy.
Comango strongly advises the government to ensure that adequate protections are in place for legitimate criticism in the soon to be tabled Religious and Racial Hatred Bill.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, and regardless of frontiers. The same freedom is similarly enshrined under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. Additionally, the government’s consideration of any hate speech should be in the spirit of the Rabat Plan of Action which prohibits the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
The Rakyat should be free to point out if they disagree with religious edicts or teachings without fear of reprisal, especially those that involve punitive action. This expression is not limited to articles but also jokes, satire and parodies that are used to highlight social and religious issues in Malaysia.
Similar laws have been used around the world as tools to stifle freedom of expression and the expression of legitimate concerns regarding religions. This is further compounded in Malaysia where the state is also empowered to carry out the administration of Islamic religious law, including the criminalisation of criticism of the religion, or anything related to it. We urge the government to protect citizens from punitive action or repercussions arising out of legitimate criticism of religion.
If the Act is vaguely worded, it can be used as a tool for harassment and persecution of those with opposing viewpoints on religion. This would not reflect the spirit of Malaysia Baharu as espoused by the Pakatan Harapan government, where all are freely able to speak their mind within reasonable and rational limits, without fear of reprisal.
Comango supports the criminalisation of hate speech against race and religion and we strongly urge the government to consider protecting other minorities in Malaysia from hate speech as well, to ensure fairness, equality, respect and harmony for all.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.