Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to reports where officers from the Ministry of Home Affairs raided and seized two books – Marx Sang Pendidik Revolusioner and Koleksi Puisi Masturbasi – from local bookshop Toko Buku Rakyat on 19 August.
Freedom of expression is a protected right under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. The government has no right to simply seize any publication that it deems inappropriate without going through the very process enumerated in Section 7(1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA), which states that any order by the minister to ban publications must be gazzeted before it can have the force of law. Neither of the books have been banned under the PPPA.
Thus, the government enforcers acted unlawfully, unconstitutionally and recklessly when they raided and seized the books from the store.
This overzealous enforcement is the second that has happened this year after the debacle of the raid and seizure of alleged LGBT+ themed watches at Swatch stores in May, which also occurred before a ban was gazetted.
We are appalled that the Pakatan Harapan-led government, which promised reform, is trigger-happy with the power it wields under the PPPA. This is a legislation notorious for its clampdown on freedom of press in the past. PH had previously called for its abolition, a promise evidently forgotten.
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Not only is this a betrayal of principles, but the manner in which the raid and seizure were conducted shows that the government is acting beyond the ambit of an already draconian law. Seizing or destroying books is the hallmark of a police state, not the democracy we are supposed to be.
The fervour by which the government is going after an unobjectionable academic analysis of Karl Marx and a book of poetry on the human condition appears to be yet another cynical move to pander to extreme conservative views.
Prof Robin Small, the writer of the seized Marx book, is a respected academic who teaches on education and philosophy and is known for his books on the great German philosopher Nietzsche. The ignorance and plain idiocy behind the seizure of his book is a national embarrassment.
In short, there are no grounds whatsoever to justify seizing or banning these books under the restriction in Article 10(2)(a) of the Constitution.
We remind the government that its duty is to safeguard the community from actual harm or the threat of harm, not thoughts and ideas, which are protected by the Constitution. At all times the government must be guided by principles, and not populist sentiments in the hopes of garnering enough votes to stay in power.
We thus urge the government to stop all enforcement action upon these two seized books. We further urge the government to halt all action under the PPPA and take immediate steps for its repeal. The repugnant PPPA should not continue to exist under a ‘reformist’ prime minister or government.
Zaid Malek is a director of Lawyers for Liberty