A Facebook Like & The Freedom Of Opinion

An imperative piece of news which may have slipped the attention of many (likely due to the ongoing Menteri Besar saga in Selangor) is about a Form 5 boy in Penang being investigated under the 1948 Sedition Act for ‘liking’ a Facebook page titled, “I Love Israel”

I will attempt to look at this issue from an objective legal standpoint. If you are interested to further find out about the freedom of speech (more so its limitations) in Malaysia, you may do so by reading my previous article

Back the issue, I’m sure many of you are wondering whether liking a facebook page can amount to sedition. The use of social media has somewhat become a hot potato to the Government as information (be it true, or false) can be spread so easily

Just a little background, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in which Malaysia is a signatory) defined the freedom of expression as the right of every individual to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers

Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to freedom of speech and exception. However, under clauses (2), and (4) of Article 10, Parliament may impose certain laws to limit the ambit of our right to say what we want and to spread our opinions (e.g. the Sedition Act 1948, Defamation Act 1957)

It was articulated that the Form 5 boy will be investigated under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act. Section 4(1) makes it an offence if any person

(a) does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do any act which has or which would, if done have seditious tendency;

(b) utters any seditious words;

(c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication; or

(d) imports any seditious publication

At this juncture, we would need to know what constitutes a “seditious tendency” before we can properly interpret the piece of legislation. Section 3(1) defines a “seditious tendency” as a tendency

(a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government;

(b) to excite the subjects of any Ruler or the inhabitants of any territory governed by any Government to attempt to procure in the territory of the Ruler or governed by the Government, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Malaysia or in any State;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia or of any State;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia; or

(f) to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignity or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III of the Federal Constitution or Article 152, 153 or 181 of the Federal Constitution

It is most likely that the boy will be investigated under Section 4(1)(a) [done an act which has a seditious tendency] on the basis that it has the tendency to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia [Section 3(1)(d)]

Let us take bring the McDonalds boycott into the picture and draw an analogy. If (for the sake of argument), the majority of Malaysians decide to take part in the boycott, every Malaysian who “liked” McDonald’s facebook page would be investigated for sedition on the basis that their “like” has the tendency to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia.

Does anyone else see how ridiculous this sounds? The facts are insufficient but what we know is that the form 5 boy merely liked the “I Love Israel” facebook page (he claims it was accidental) and his teacher found out about it.

Just as the teacher has a right to be anti-Israel, her student has the right to be pro-Israel. It is evident that it is only a matter of opinion. Voltaire once said, “Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too”

The million dollar question is whether we truly have the freedom to hold opinions, or whether we only have the freedom to hold opinions that are acceptable to those having auctoritas

It was further reported that the teacher shared it (the boy’s like of the FB page) on her Facebook page, criticised the student, and the boy’s actions attracted criticism and threats from other Facebook users. There were even calls to boycott the student, and one Facebook user commented the student should be burned

Now, wait a second. One is a mere “like” or “accidental like” (whichever you believe), while the other is an intentional share & expression of contempt/disapproval. The latter even resulted in calls to boycott the student & threats on the boy’s life. Any reasonable man can see which is worse

At least the police appear to be doing an impartial job as Seberang Prai Selatan district police chief Superintendent Shafien Mamat said the police will probe why he had liked the page as well as the threats made against him.

Margaret A. Edwards once said,  “Too many adults wish to ‘protect’ teenagers when they should be stimulating them to read of life as it is lived.” That is exactly what happened in this case. Ergo, the teacher should be castigated for her unbecoming actions

*This article can also be read at The Malaysian Insider, Malaysiakini and The Malay Mail Online

Is The Spike In Racial & Religious Extremism Due To A Weak Government?

I couldn’t disagree more with our former Prime Minister (PM), Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he suggested that the weak government has led to a spike in racial and religious extremism. I quote, “Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration’s weak mandate in the 2013 general elections has caused a spike in racial and religious extremism.”

I for one fail to see the connection. Is it possible that because Barisan Nasional narrowly won the 13th General Elections, that the laws of the land are not able to be enforced? Thus resulting in a spike in racial and religious extremism as it is not nipped in the bud

The laws of our land are applicable till the day they are revoked, regardless of who is in power or how they got into power. Is it possible that our current PM refuses to prosecute troublemakers out of acrimony to those who rejected him and his party in the last elections?

Dr M goes on to say, “Najib has his hands tied and cannot take action against those who abuse liberalism for fear of being labelled as an illiberal by his critics.” There’s nothing illiberal about acting against malfeasance, especially one which we have laws for! I am flabbergasted at the fact we have profuse laws restricting the freedom of speech, especially when it comes to inciting racial and/or religious hate, yet it is being underutilized or misused in certain cases.

In fact, the majority of Malaysians are supportive of action being taken against those who are misusing their freedom of speech. A wise man by the name of Dante Alighieri once said, “A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark.” Deal not with the root cause, and you may just have a forest fire on your hands

The Government needs to take proactive steps to ameliorate the problem. Either that or further risk ‘losing your mandate’ in the next general election. It’s your move

* This article can also be read at The Malaysian Insider

Freedom Of Speech

It is well known that freedom of speech is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. However, what most Malaysians do not know is that their freedom of speech is limited. If certain quarters knew, they would not go around making seditious, provocative and/or defamatory statements as it is punishable by law.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right as it is subject to certain limitations. Clause 2 and 4 of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution allows Parliament to make laws restricting the freedom of speech.

There’s a quote that says, “If you think twice before speaking once, you will speak twice the better for it.”

Below are provisions of the law of Malaysia limiting the freedom of speech. The only shame is that they are rarely used nowadays despite all the statements filled with hatred and bigotry.

Section 298 of the Penal Code makes “uttering any word or making any sound in the hearing, or making any gesture or placing any object in the sight of any person with intention to wound his religious feeling” a criminal offence. The maximum punishment would be imprisonment for one year, or fine, or both.

“Causing, etc., disharmony, disunity, or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will, or prejudicing, etc., the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion” is also an offence as per Section 298A of the Penal Code. The punishment is imprisonment between 2 (min) to 5 years (max).

Section 500 of the Penal Code makes defamation a criminal offence which is punishable by imprisonment for two years (max), or fine, or both.

Malaysia also has the Defamation Act 1957 which makes defamation (both libel and slander) a civil offence. Some of the provisions include slander of women (s.4), slander affecting official, professional, or business reputation (s.5), and slander of title, etc (s.6)

Now to our infamous Sedition Act 1948. Section 3(1) defines a “seditious tendency.” It covers seditious statements made “against any Ruler or any Government” [s.3(1)(a)], “against the administration of justice” [s.3(1)(c)], and “to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia” [s.3(1)(e)]

One may wonder, “since we have so many statutes limiting the freedom of speech (albeit for our own good, unless misused), how come the extremists are still running around like headless chickens shouting at the top of their lungs as if their brains are located at their behinds?” To be honest, I do not have the answer. Our Attorney-General needs to step up his game or step down completely for incompetency

* The Malaysian Insider featured this article