April 17, 2015
Sedition in 140 Characters
by Azrul Mohd Khalib
The next time I see Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty, I have to remind myself to congratulate him for being, if I am not mistaken, the first person in Malaysia to be charged for sedition based on a Twitter post back in January.
Worthy of an entry into the vaunted Malaysian Book of Records, don’t you think? He was also the first person to be charged for sedition this year. Pembuka tirai 2015. During the heat of the hudud debate last month, two other tweets from him attracted the IGP’s TLC resulting in his arrest, detention and investigation for, guess what? Sedition!
I once wondered, when Twitter was first launched, what on earth can a person say in 140 characters? Being someone who has been criticised as being overly verbose, who loves to beat the bushes and is totally incapable of saying something in five words when it can be said in 20, I found myself alien to the idea of such succinctness and brevity. You can say plenty, apparently, and piss people off.
Eric can not only express himself eloquently within those limits, his tweets can also cause noses to go out of joint, sphincters to spasm and contract violently, and hands to clutch hair (or empty air for some) under berets, kopiahs and songkoks.
Earlier this month, cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque better known as Zunar, was slapped with nine sedition charges for tweets critical of the conviction of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. Nine! I think he makes it to the Book of Records for most sedition charges faced by an individual under this draconian law first enacted by the British during the colonial era.
Opponents of the right to freedom of expression (unless it is their own), supporters of the idea that “there is too much freedom and not enough limits and restrictions”, and advocates of cracking down on “troublemakers” are currently having a field day with the successful passage of Bills related to the diminishing and restrictions of constitutional freedoms sold as necessary for national security and fighting extremism.
I don’t know about you but have you looked and heard this lot lately? Some seem to consist of people belonging to obscure NGOs which no one seems to have heard of, some wearing pseudo military uniforms, and who use threats and abusive language peppered with words of hate, violence, prejudice and racism. Others smile sinisterly in Parliament and celebrate while our rights are trampled under their jackboots.
Meanwhile the powers that be are apparently terrified of the written word, speech, thoughts and even cartoons which espouse and celebrate the freedom of expression and diversity of opinion, promote and defend moderation, demand accountability and transparency, and speak out against injustice and tyranny.
Cartoonists, writers, lecturers and lawyers are being arrested, detained, dressed up in stylish police lock-up purple and made to face charges of sedition. The loud defenders of Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Sedition Act and other measures to curtail fundamental civil liberties seem to be made of Teflon, impervious and able to act with impunity as they misuse and abuse the issues of race, religion and royalty for their own purposes.
Irony? More like tragedy.
Outside observers could be forgiven for asking what and whose side is the government on and what are they defending against from their own people? Make no mistake. We are at a point where we are starting to bear more resemblance to the society of George Orwell’s 1984 than the vibrant parliamentary democracy envisioned by our nation’s founders.
When the government begins to turn against its people, expecting to hear only compliance, obedience and assent, therein lies the danger of tyranny.
Draconian laws which act as “catch-alls” cannot and must not replace the need for diligent and thorough professional police work. Above all, the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” must continue to be part of the bedrock of justice in this country and not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.
When laws are passed which prevent the possibility for any judicial review, presumes guilt over innocence, does not require to demonstrate intent, allows for the arrest and detention of a citizen without charge or trial and is deliberately vague in the description of the alleged crime, the question that needs to be asked is not if the laws are going to be used, but when they will be abused.
Is this the legacy that our politicians today aim to leave for the children of tomorrow’s Malaysia: the creation of a tyranny to maintain political relevance and dominancy and to defend us from the threat of extremism?
That to maintain power and be protected from terror and extremism, we must ourselves become a tyranny? Have we, by these actions, been defeated by doing precisely what those who live and thrive on terror and extremism expects us to do? Changing our way of life, viewing each other with suspicion and to live in fear?
All who voted for POTA and the amendments to the Sedition Act, remember this moment if the day comes that these laws are ever used on you. Those who use might to make right often fall victim to their own devices. For allegiances, alliances and loyalty are but fleeting concepts in Malaysian politics.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.