It would currently seem to be hazardous to one’s health to voice, write, tweet or draw an opinion which is critical of the state.
The frequency with which the Sedition Act is being used, selectively as many will claim, brings to mind the phrase “There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”
That one thinks of this quotation at a time when a number of individuals comprising law makers, lawyers, activists, cartoonists and lecturers are being charged for the comments, writings or drawings they have made is an indication of the appalling state of the nation.
Recent victims of the Sedition Act dragnet include political cartoonist Zunar, PSM Secretary General S Arutchelvan and cartoonist Lawrence Jeyaraj from the Independent Cartoonists Group.
It is ironic that the very agency entrusted with keeping the public safe by catching criminals – i.e. human traffickers, drug pushers, rapists and child molesters, robbers or the corrupt who have either siphoned off or wasted the country’s wealth – is being used to investigate and/or arrest people who, are highlighting – through their speech, writing, tweets, political satire or cartoons – the apparent ills of the nation and what many see as the various forms of state corruption.
What is the public to think about the drama involved in the spate of arrests? In two instances of these arrests, 10 or more police officers were used to arrest one person. What an extraordinary waste of taxpayers’ money, police personnel and time.
Are these individuals who are being arrested or the opinions they hold so detrimental to the nation’s well being? Or do these actions show a state struggling to maintain power by silencing their critics and/or trying to intimidate the public?
Given the vague wording of the Sedition Act, which is open to arbitrary interpretation perhaps, it is time we ask the IGP (and the AG) to clarify their stand on everything which happens in the country and make a list of what people can or cannot say, write, tweet, sing, act or draw about and explain clearly why.
Is everything which is a critique of the state, the judiciary or the ruling elite necessarily illegitimate? If this is the case then what has happened to accountability, transparency, freedom of expression and differences of opinion?
If this is the situation we are facing with the Sedition Act, what is one to expect from the soon-to-be-tabled new Prevention of Terrorism Act (PoTA) in which the preventive element has been said to be the main component. Will we be soon seeing arbitrary detentions of individuals again?
There was a time not too long ago when people were arrested for wearing yellow T-shirts. But enough people prevailed and the fight for free and fair elections was not stamped out.
There was a time when people were arrested under the ISA and at anti-ISA vigils and gatherings. But enough people prevailed and the ISA was eventually (after years of protest) abolished.
Today it would seem that people are being bullied via the Sedition Act (i.e. arrested, investigated, charged and prosecuted) for apparently speaking or showing truth to power. Once again, for change to take place, enough people must prevail.
We must take heart and have courage. The more ridiculous the arrests, it would appear the more desperate the regime is.
The fight will get harder but hopefully it will mean we are that much closer to an opportunity for change.
Dr Prema Devaraj
Aliran executive committee member
23 February 2015