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