Dennis Ignatius: The Last Days of Freedom?


It was deeply troubling to read last week that pensioner Abdullah Sani was convicted and fined RM2,000 (or one month’s jail) for the great crime of insulting the Minister of Health.

Abdullah was charged under the notorious Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 which criminalizes comments that are intended to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass others. Offenses under the act are punishable by a maximum fine of RM50,000, or up to a year’s jail, or both upon conviction.

Tellingly, the judge (according to media reports) noted that Abdullah’s comments were “not overboard” or “malicious.” Is this an indication that the law is so broadly framed that it allows the government to criminalize even comments that are balanced and in good faith?

The Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) asked the court for a deterrent sentence that reflects the “severity” of the offense. “I ask the court to impose a sentence that will serve as a lesson to the accused and also to the public so as to be more sensitive and considerate before making social media postings,” he said. 

Surely there is something incongruous about asking for a deterrent sentence that reflects the “severity” of the offense in relation to comments that “are not overboard” or “malicious.” What “lesson” do the authorities  wish to teach the public other than that it is not willing to abide any criticisms of its conduct.

It is extremely distressing as well that Abdullah Sani’s case comes on the heels of a number of other cases where politicians, civil society leaders, journalists, bloggers and other critics of the government have been hauled up for questioning and/or charged with offenses under the many odious laws that allow the government to harass, intimidate and persecute its critics.

Among those under police scrutiny are Steven Gan (editor, Malaysiakini), Patrick Teoh (Radio DJ), Tashny Sukumaran (correspondent for the South China Morning Post), Lai Yuet Ming @ Dian Abdullah (blogger),  Siti Kasim (activist-lawyer), Cynthia Gabriel (Founder, Centre to Combat Corruption & Cronyism), R. Sri Sanjeevan (Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force), Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (activist-lawyer), and opposition MPs Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Hannah Yeoh, R. Sivarasa and Dr. Xavier Jayakumar.

In addition, Marina Mahathir, Ambiga Sreenevasan and 14 other activists are being investigated for participating in a peaceful rally held on 1st March to express disapproval of Muhyiddin Yassin’s appointment as prime minister. Five protestors and unionists have also been arrested for participating in a peaceful assembly demanding improved working conditions for hospital cleaners. 

Even the participants of the recently concluded youth digital parliament are now being “contacted” by the police though their reasons for doing so are as yet uncertain. Given the current environment, one has to wonder if this is yet another “act of intimidation” (to quote  one MP).

Read the rest here:


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