Lawyers for Liberty refer to the statement made by the Umno Youth chief, Dr Asyraf Wajdi, who called for stern action to be taken against those responsible for publishing a book Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope In New Malaysia for the alleged offence of defacing and insulting the country’s coat of arms.
From the outset, we must correct the erroneous claim that an offence was committed. The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act 1963 only prohibits the use of the official coat of arms without the written permission of the minister. It does not prohibit any artistic rendition inspired from the nation’s coat of arms such as the one used on the cover of the book, which no sane person would mistake for the country’s actual coat of arms.
The other laws under which the case is being investigated such as the Sedition Act, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia 1998 and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 are notoriously oppressive and anti-democratic laws, which should not be used by the authorities ever again. These laws should be urgently repealed in the coming session of Parliament.
It is also important to point out that the artwork used on the book cover is not new and was even part of an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur as early as 2014, when an Umno-led coalition was the government of the day. Thus, it begs the question as to why such artwork is only now considered offensive and unacceptable.
This manufactured controversy is an obvious attempt to strong-arm citizens from exercising their freedom of speech. Asyraf Wajdi needs to be reminded that freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected under the Federal Constitution and must not be stifled simply because some quarters do not like the expression or artwork. If you truly respect the law, then you must adhere to the Constitution and not fabricate crimes where there are none.
There is no reason why the authorities should entertain this false outrage and empty controversy any longer. The government must uphold the freedom of speech and not bow to any reactionaries who wish to use the state for their own insidious political agenda.
Zaid Malek is coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty