Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to the police announcement yesterday that they have opened an investigation for criminal defamation under Section 500 of the Penal Code against Perikatan Nasional chairman Mahiaddin Yasin for alleged defamatory statements against Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
The offence carries a prison sentence.
LFL finds it appalling and undemocratic that such a police report was made in the first place by the PM’s own political secretary. Clearly the police report could not have been made without Anwar’s approval. The purpose of the police report is clearly to silence criticism against Anwar by his political opponent Mahiaddin and potentially others who choose to criticise Anwar.
It is unlawful, unconstitutional and tyrannical for the PM or any government minister to rely upon the machinery of the enforcement authorities to clamp down on any speech that “creates a negative perception” of their leadership, as claimed by Anwar’s political secretary.
If the prime minister or anyone in government feels they have been defamed, there is recourse in the civil courts that is available to clear their name. In our democracy, the PM has no special status under the law that is different from ordinary citizens. It is unlawful for him to use the police to defend his reputation.
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Has Anwar forgotten that during the Najib Razak era, the then opposition Pakatan Harapan was at the receiving end of similar police investigations for criticism of then Prime Minister Najib? Have Anwar and his political coalition learnt nothing from the persecution they were then subjected to?
This sets a dangerous precedent for our country as similar action can be taken against anyone else who expresses dissent against the PM or the government or any of its ministers. This renders meaningless the right to freedom of expression of the people guaranteed under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution and endangers our civil liberties.
We remind the government that the police are not here to protect the image or reputation of the prime minister or the government that he leads. Their job is to keep the public safe from crime and to maintain public order.
A mature and democratic government publicly responds to and answers criticism, instead of trying to jail critics.
Therefore, as leader of a democratic nation who respects the rule of law, Prime Minister Anwar must direct his political secretary to withdraw the police report with immediate effect as it is a matter for the civil courts.
Meanwhile, the police must halt any criminal investigation for the alleged defamatory statements immediately as it is not their job to protect the PM’s reputation.
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty