Freedom of Expression

BY IVANPAL S. GREWAL



In my previous article, I shared my views on the Prevention of Terrorism BIll (Pota) and the reasons my party supported the bill. In this piece I am sharing my views on the amendments to the Sedition Act 1948 and the reasons why Gerakan supported the amendments.

Freedom of Expression

The freedom to express oneself in a manner one so wishes are indeed has always been a fairly testy subject.

The lese majeste laws in Thailand have been used by the current government against many dissidents of the regime but the public remains supportive of those set of laws because the monarchy is revered in Thailand.

The famous American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Schenck v. United States in 1919 said that "shouting fire in a crowded theater" when there is in fact no fire is not something that is protected by the first amendment of the American Constitution which guarantees freedom of expression.

Hence, all rights have limits that are set by law and there are also laws to regulate the right to express oneself freely.

In Malaysia, we have a robust media especially the non-traditional media outlets and expressions on Facebook and Twitter have been very critical of the government. I welcome this because accountability is important.

However, people tend to get caught up in their fervour, at most times misguided, and make remarks that are derogatory towards our institutions of government and the Royalty.

This is something we cannot condone because there must be decorum and respect when we speak on such issues in line with societal norms.

The rise of anarchist tendencies and the fact that many see the condemnation of the Royalty and the institutions of government as somewhat fashionable is unacceptable.

In view of this rising insolence and due to popular demand for the government to clamp down on all who make outrageous remarks despite their political colours crystallised in the amendments to the Sedition Act but at the same time the act was also amended to reflect current societal trends, the good ones of course.

Amendments to the Sedition Act 1948


On the amendments to the Sedition Act, again after a 12-hour debate parliament passed the amendment bill. Two important aspects of the amendments have been completely absent from the debate. Namely, criticism against the government of the day and the administration of justice can no longer lead to charges of sedition.

In the political drama perpetrated by the Pakatan Rakyat parties that included political theatrics of the most reprehensible nature, a legitimate and honest debate on the amendments to the Sedition Act was made very difficult.

In view of the rising racial and religious tension, it is important for the authorities to have the necessary tools to preserve societal stability and harmony.

The inclusion of an express provision to criminalise the incitement of racial and religious hatred which is evidenced in the amendment of Section 3(2) of the Sedition Act 1948 now puts the onus on the authorities to arrest and charge any individual, regardless our their racial, religious and political background, and ensure that stability and harmony is preserved.

Furthermore, it will no longer to be seditious to criticise the government of the day or the administration of justice in this country. Hence this shows that the government is open to criticism and is not using the Sedition Act to muzzle its critics.

I have always said that freedom of speech does not include the right to hurt or insult anybody.

Freedom of speech must protect the individual who speaks but also the individuals who are harmed by the exercise of the right to speak freely. This balance will ensure harmony and unity is protected.

Conclusion

Obviously we have taken some hits and our political opponents have used this for political fodder.

It was a tough decision for my party but in the end, as seen throughout our history since its formation, we have always taken the path less travelled because Gerakan has been imbued with a strong sense of national responsibility and we have paid a political price.

But this is a political price worth paying in my opinion because parties that have taken political positions for short-term gains have also suffered in the long term.

None of these laws are set in stone, what is made by men can also be changed by men. If and when there is an unbiased determination that these laws have served their purpose, they can be repealed.

In this difficult time in our nations young history, Gerakan has summoned the courage to make the tough decisions and choices in the best interests of Malaysians and also national security and stability.

Gerakan has not made a political “U-Turn” but rather we have evolved in our views on the Sedition Act and Pota because they are the best we can do in this trying time.

But our support is not carte blanche and will be contingent on what is in the nation’s best interest and also on our commitments to human rights and the rule of law.

Making the politically propitious decisions is always easy but making the right decision at a political cost is always difficult but this is a test Gerakan has always passed because unlike our political opponents we do not make raw and rabid political calculations when it comes to what is best for the country.

We have taken the hits in our stride and we will continue to hold steadfastly to our beliefs and values.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.



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