MAY 10 — Earlier today, police arrested a man named Firdaus Abdillah Hamzah (Pipiyapong) — an average Malaysian, like you and me. He was then hauled all the way from Pahang to Johor. Made to wear the disgustingly infamous orange lock-up garb, with his hands placed in handcuffs behind him: He appeared an extremely dangerous criminal. Must have certainly committed a heinous crime to be treated in such fashion, I thought.
But what did he do? He criticised the Tunku Mahkota Johor (TMJ) online. That’s what he did. He voiced his dissatisfaction. Expressed his dissent. Exercised a constitutional right — a human right. That was his crime. Speaking up, against a royal.
There are many things that are very wrong with this incident. Beyond a disgrace, it is a shameless spit right at the forefront of the rakyat’s face for this to happen precisely a year after we moved oceans for a wave of change in Malaysia.
But what is even more frightening: is that there seems to be no end in sight to this vicious cycle of oppressive laws and overreaching abuse at the hands of the police.
Coincidentally Law Minister Liew Vui Keong today announced that although the Sedition Act 1948 will be abolished, a new law would be introduced in its place to protect royal rulers and political leaders from ‘defamation’. This reeks of political hypocrisy from Harapan. And is nothing but utterly disappointing.
Being former victims of such repressive laws themselves, Harapan ought to understand the capacity for abuse that such laws encompass. They are usually vague and broadly drafted to cater to an array of different situations. Hence presenting a broad avenue for misuse and persecution by law enforcement and the government-of-the-day alike. And it must be stated that good intentions are no security whatsoever from abuse and misuse.
More importantly however, is that there is no necessity for such laws in the first place. No royal rulers or political leaders should be beyond reproach. There must be space for intellectual discourse, which would naturally include the freedom to criticise rulers and political leaders — a pivotal necessity for any society to mature and develop.
And in fact, it is a hallmark of good governance to encourage discourse. But instead of encouraging and creating a conducive environment for mature political discourse, Harapan has regrettably chosen the easy way out: by rebranding and introducing even more repressive laws.
Further, an added issue with repressive laws is that they do not have to be used in order to have a counterproductive effect on societal development and discourse. Their mere presence and employability on the statute books is sufficient to deter honest and necessary discourse and criticism, in fear of these laws being used against those who speak up.
Instead of introducing more repressive laws:
Law Minister Liew Vui Keong must be enlightened to abolish the Sedition Act 1948, and see to it that no equal of it is created. He should instead advocate space for mature political discourse — ensuring no rulers and political leaders are immune from criticism. And if they are truly defamed, then initiate civil action in the civil courts. Not recourse to repressive criminal laws;
Minister of Communications and Multimedia, Gobind Singh Deo must urgently ensure that Sections 211 and 233 of the MCMC Act 2001 are amended to encapsulate statutory exceptions for political discourse and criticism against rulers and political leaders, if not abolished completely; and
Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Muhyddin Yassin must immediately see to it that PDRM undertake a review of their arrest and investigation protocols. All arrested persons must be treated with dignity, and those accused of offences such as ‘criticising leaders online’ should never be placed in lock-up garbs and handcuffs — treated like violent criminals. Non-violent detainees should never be degraded and placed in handcuffs.
It is an utterly disproportionate use of PDRM’s powers of arrest.
It is commendable that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir took to Twitter almost immediately to protest the arrest of Pipiyapong, and that he was later released on police bail. But it does not change the very lucid fact that he was nevertheless arrested and degraded by police, for merely expressing his dissent online.
It also does not change the fact that such an arrest will inevitably deter other Malaysians from speaking up, dissenting and criticising royal rulers and their political leaders. And it certainly does not change the fact that so long as repressive laws remain, PDRM will continue making such arrests and curtailing intellectual discourse.
Until laws shielding royal rulers and political leaders from dissent and criticism are not abolished in their entirety, the Prime Minister’s guarantee on the freedom to criticise leaders remains nothing but — lip service.
The Harapan government’s next steps are crucial. And Malaysians are watching attentively.
*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.