Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Deputy Communications and Digital Minister Teo Nie Ching’s statement on 17 September that her ministry is reviewing the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) and expects to table a proposed amendment in Parliament early next year.
The amendment must be done without fail at the next sitting of Parliament, as the CMA has been a tool of oppression by successive governments. The wide ambit of Section 233 of the CMA and the ill-defined scope of offences it prescribes leaves it vague and open to arbitrary interpretations.
Section 233 of the CMA, which governs the “improper use of network facilities or services”, is also repugnant to the rule of law, as it is broad in scope, vague and ambiguous, with entirely subjective terms such as “offensive” and “annoy”. Due to its subjective terms, leading to ambiguity to what is or is not an offence under the provision, it has been used to stifle speech and expression, shut out contrary views, quash dissent, deny democratic space and suppress the people. It is a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.
None of the elements of this prohibition – “indecent”, “obscene”, “false”, “menacing” or “offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person” are defined further in the act. This creates a potentially endless category of offences, which are at the discretion of law enforcement to define as they see fit.
As such, under the CMA, anybody can be a target and what amounts to offences remain unclear.
- Sign up for Aliran's free daily email updates or weekly newsletters or both
- Make a one-off donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB a/c 8004240948
- Make a pledge or schedule an auto donation to Aliran every month or every quarter
- Become an Aliran member
Like other laws that impinge on freedom of expression such as the Sedition Act, the government adopts double standards and selective persecution in using the CMA. The CMA has been used repeatedly to investigate and arrest those who criticise the government or the rulers on social media, with the resurgence of the use of the law over the past year.
This act deters even the highlighting of human rights abuses, breaches of law and even possible government wrongdoing. A criticism of a statement of any government official or anyone that is in the wrong can also be alleged to be false, menacing, annoying or even harassment.
Therefore, the government must urgently review the CMA to ensure that it conforms to international human rights standards and the Constitution, and specifically for Section 233 to be thoroughly revised to more narrowly and precisely define what constitutes “improper use of network facilities or services” under the act.
In fact, the use of the CMA had been heavily objected to and criticised by the Pakatan Harapan coalition prior to forming the government. And repealing the provisions of the CMA was one of the promises of reform made by the PH government due to its oppressive nature.
It is not enough for the deputy minister to merely announce that the CMA will be reviewed next year. This is too uncertain. An exact commitment must be given and details of the amendments discussed with stakeholders.
Most importantly, to prevent any further abuse and misuse of the CMA while the act is pending review in Parliament, we call upon the government to announce an immediate suspension of the usage of Section 233 and all other draconian provisions of the CMA and impose a moratorium on enforcement or prosecution pending its repeal or amendment. – LFL
Nabila Khairuddin is a campaign coordinator at Lawyers for Liberty