The Government and Attorney-General should act fast to introduce new laws to criminalise and penalise cyberbullying — Kasthuri Patto

SEPTEMBER 20 — I refer to the article carried in Malaysiakini dated 19 September, 2020 titled “Putrajaya to decide on cyberbullying law soon“ and wish to reiterate my stand that there is a great need for cyberbullying laws to be introduced soonest.

According to Tan Chuan Ou, Deputy Secretary General in the Ministry of Multimedia and Communication at the online launch of UNICEF’s “Our Lives Online – Use of Social Media by Children and Adolescents in East Asia” he stated that “there was “no clear protocol” for reporting cyberbullying in Malaysia but opined that the Malaysian Penal Code and CMA were “enough” to deal with such incidents”. I find this poor logic and as while admitting a lacuna on laws to criminalise cyberbullying, he is also “defending” current weak, and loose laws that allow for cyberbullies to face the long arm of the law.

Why was he so brazen to insult her like this and to stubbornly refuse to remove his defiant post? What made others do the same, joining in to bully her and spread lies about her? Is it due of the lack of acceleration by the enforcement officers, MCMC and the Attorney-General to investigate, charge and convict cyberbullies as other high-profile cases? Or is it because there is a vacuum or a lack of a specific set of laws to make nabbing and prosecuting cyberbullies which will be easier for PDRM and MCMC to act upon?

In my royal address speech in Parliament on the 28th of July 2020 I had stressed for new laws to address the rising incidences that has led to suicide attempts and even suicides, particularly after a young girl took her life in Bukit Tengah in May this year as a result of vulgar, nasty comments by a Facebook user, Joker Oruvan who is still not arrested to date. Dato Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister for the Multimedia and Communications replied that Multimedia University is in collaboration with the ministry in conducting a study on cyberbullying, including an awareness campaign on online consumer rights in Malaysia. He stated by year end the result will be out. I interjected that while it is good for a research to be carried out, there is already evidence that Malaysia needs new sets of laws specific to cyberbullying. He stated his support and would update further.

It is not only on the shoulders of the Ministry of Multimedia and Communications alone but the Home Ministry, Youth and Sports, Women, Family and Community Development, Prime Minister’s Department as well as the Ministry of Education as well as Higher Education.

In an oral reply given to my Parliamentary question dated 27 July 2020 and 3 August 2020 and MP for Pandan Datuk Seri Wan Azizah, the ministry stated that from the period of January to June 2020, the Multimedia and Communication Commission (MCMC) had received a total of 11,235 complaints covering a range of cyber offences such as hacking, gambling, promoting prostitution, exposing official documents, harassment, cyberbullying, distributing pornography, of imposters and sharing personal pictures and fake news, and hate speech towards race, religion, extremism and insulting royalty. 143 cases had been investigated under Section 233 of the MCMC Act on the misuse of social media, only 7 have been brought to court which is less than 1 per cent. There is no mention of those investigated under the Penal Code and no news if they were convicted or acquitted.

According to a UNICEF report, “28 per cent out of 6953 young people in Malaysia, through a poll, claimed to be victims of online bullying, with 43 per cent of them experiencing it through online games and private messaging and social media apps including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter.

Cyberbullying exists in low- and high-income countries and it is the joint responsibility of the Government, internet service providers and online users as well, weeding out those who propagate hate speech and cyberbullying as well as those who are victims of it. In times of a pandemic of this scale, more people including youths will spend more time online and exposing themselves to vile characters online including cyberbullies and sexual predators.

We must seriously ask ourselves, “Are our laws sufficient to protect our children? Are our laws sufficient to protect us?”

While waiting for Multimedia University to present their findings if Malaysia needs cyberbullying laws or not, I urge the Government not to rest on its laurels, and to conduct public townhall style hearings through webinars, using social media to gauge and engage for themselves the opinion, responses, feedback, constructive criticisms and suggestions by parents, ISP providers, social media giants and civil society on what would entail in such a law. I also urge the Government and the Speaker of the Parliament not to delay the setting up of Parliamentary Select Committees or All-Party Parliamentary Groups to address cyberbullying for an overall collective opinion pool.

It is clear that existing laws are insufficient and new laws on cyberbullying is needed as well as stringent enforcement and courageous, learned, astute and compassionate judges who we all greatly rely on being advocates and defenders in upholding the rule of law.

*Kasthuri Patto is Member of Parliament for Batu Kawan and International Secretary for Wanita DAP.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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