The undersigned organisations working on issues of freedom of expression and media freedom are very concerned about the Penang state government and the police’s collusion with bullies who have successfully shut down the play Love in Georgetown City.
The advice to shut down the play is particularly disconcerting given that police had already said that the play contained no pornographic elements, as being alleged by protesters.
It is unfortunate that police need to be reminded that their job is to uphold the law, including the Constitution, which in Article 10 guarantees the right to freedom of expression.
In the case of a dispute such as this, the police should protect the theatre company from the threats and demonstrations of those opposed to the legal performance of a play that transgresses no legal restriction on freedom of expression. Instead, the police are legitimising the bullying of performers by advising that the performance be closed down.
Malaysia has inherited a colonial tendency to view freedom of expression, debate and discussion as threats to the nation. Yet, the Pakatan Harapan government, in power in both the state of Penang and federally, has made commitments to uphold human rights, including freedom of expression.
We call on the government to uphold Article 10, allowing only the prosecution of legitimate exceptions to freedom of expression and media freedom. The government must give concrete guidelines on the limited ways that freedom of expression can be limited.
In this way, artists, activists and journalists can be freed from the straitjacket of self-censorship, knowing that their fundamental rights are protected and what the legitimate exceptions to freedom of speech are. These limitations would include incitement to violence and other forms of speech that cause harm.
Under such a regime, the harmless innuendo of a comedy on the romantic lives of married couples would be protected. While the legitimate right to protest of those offended by the title of the play would also be protected, any intimidation or threats could be limited by law.
We further urge the Ministry of Home Affairs to draw on the expertise and long-term experience of Malaysia’s human rights community in framing legislation, such as the repeal of the Sedition Act, amendments to the Penal Code, and the repeal of existing laws.
By including a wide range of voices, with particular expertise in these areas, the Pakatan Harapan government will more easily fulfil its election pledges to uphold and protect the human rights of all Malaysians.
Cluster for Freedom of Opinion and Freedom of Expression
and endorsed by:
- Centre for Independent Journalism
- Freedom Film Network
- Gerakan Media Merdeka (Geramm)
- KRYSS Malaysia
- Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (GERAK)
- Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)