Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) views with grave concern the criminal charge levied against Heidy Quah at the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court recently.
We are well acquainted with Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) and the decision to charge with an offence under this provision comes as no surprise; it is one of the infamous provisions that has been used continuously against activists or even members of the public who dare speak out against the government or any of its agencies.
The unusually wide and vague terms used in Section 233(1)(a) gives overwhelming and excessive powers to enforcement authorities to decide what is “offensive”. Thus, the law has been wielded even against someone like Heidy who was merely exposing the horrible conditions at immigration detention centres – which is a matter of public interest.
Essentially, the government is unconstitutionally and unjustifiably curtailing the fundamental right of freedom of expression that is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.
It is utterly nonsensical that exposures by activists like Heidy could be detrimental to public order or morality, warranting criminal prosecutions, when it is corruption and abuse of power by the authorities that are the real diseases that decay our democratic system. Any country that treats whistleblowers as criminals soon loses its moral legitimacy.
If the prosecution against Heidy is not withdrawn, then the government has decided that it rather cover up than admit its mistakes and improve on its shortcomings; it would rather the public live in fear and suppress any public interest issues from being discussed in a public forum.
We hereby remind the government that it has a duty to uphold the Constitution and to protect the rights of every Malaysian citizen to free speech. Even though this freedom is not absolute, the limitations imposed by the Constitution do not curtail expressions of dissatisfaction and criticism against the government or any of its agencies.
The government must therefore repeal draconic provisions such as Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act and withdraw the baseless criminal charge against Heidy immediately.
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty