This statement was originally published on cijmalaysia.net on 6 June 2020.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) strongly condemns the continued use of Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) despite Minister Saifuddin Abdullah’s pledge to look into the Act last month, and calls for all related investigations and future arrests to be halted, and charges, to be dropped.
We view with concern that since the change in government at the federal level in February 2020, individuals voicing dissent against the authorities have been charged or investigated under Section 233 of the CMA, including, among others:
- Center to Combat Corruption & Cronyism (C4) Founder Cynthia Gabriel;
- Malaysian Crime Watch Task Force (MyWatch) Chairman R. Sri Sanjeevan;
- Activist-Lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri;
- Big Blue Taxi Services Founder Shamsubahrin Ismail;
- Kuala Langat MP Dr. Xavier Jayakumar, and;
- South China Morning Post News Correspondent Tashny Sukumaran
Section 233 of the CMA is deeply problematic for its over-broad definitions accompanied with heavy punishment that infringes upon the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The section allows for persons to be imprisoned for up to one year and fined up to RM50,000 for posting offensive content that annoys another person. This goes far beyond the legitimate restrictions allowed to freedom of expression, such as preventing incitement to violence or for national security.
Freedom of expression is clearly enshrined under international human rights law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in our Federal Constitution. Freedom of expression and speech underpins the fundamental right to seek and exchange ideas, opinions and information that would enable the public to form their own opinions and allow for dissenting or alternative positions, specifically on issues of public interest, and ultimately promote good governance and hold the State to account.
Limits on freedom of expression in law must be clear and narrowly defined, and serve a well-defined public interest function. These limits must also be necessary and proportionate, while measures adopted to address alleged online infringement must meet the harm test to determine legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. Criminalising content that could potentially challenge and attempt to hold the government to account is grossly disproportionate to any legitimate aim of protecting public order.
We demand that the government stop with immediate effect the use of regressive legal provisions such as Section 233 of the CMA to censor and silence dissenting and non-conforming voices. We need a healthy environment that promotes critical and thinking masses and not mere unthinking and conforming puppets in our society.
Without any more delay, the new Perikatan Nasional government, under Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah’s leadership, must review and adopt a moratorium on the arbitrary use of Section 233 of the CMA, besides moving towards a repeal and amendment of its vague provisions in accordance with our Federal Constitution and international standards on freedom of expression.
6 June 2020
Wathshlah G. Naidu
CIJ Executive Director
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Source: MEDIA FEED