The act of arresting, handcuffing and detaining 19-year-old Ong Sing Yee will start a backlash against the authorities.
In the past, Malaysia’s Sedition Act 1948 was used to silence the political adversaries of the ruling administration. Today, Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s government has deemed it necessary to curb individuals, NGOs and even teenagers.
This government refuses to understand that it needs to summon the courage to tackle the necessary and urgent reforms demanded by the electorate. It should not take the easier option of hounding teenagers and people who dare criticise.
The act of arresting, handcuffing and detaining 19-year-old Ong Sing Yee for 15 hours and then interrogating her without the presence of her lawyer, will start a backlash against the authorities.
Ong’s crime? She had been charged with sedition for stepping on posters of Najib and his wife, the self-styled First Lady Rosmah Mansor, during the Janji Demokrasi march on the eve of Merdeka Day at Dataran Merdeka.
If Najib and the police would really like to make an impact, they should raid people’s homes and arrest, handcuff and detain all those people, including and especially Malays, who use newspapers with Najib’s photographs to line their cat litter trays. Some do this with relish, because they claim, this is their own form of silent protest.
Photos of Najib seem to attract all sorts of contempt. Not so long ago. It is alleged he had to arrest boys for throwing bricks at his pictures on KTM trains.
MP for Puchong, Gobind Singh Deo, had already said that stepping on photographs of the prime minister and his wife is not sedition. Najib and his wife are not rulers, nor are they the government. Najib is merely a government servant.
In May, NGO and social activist Irene Fernandez was charged with sedition. A Jakarta daily reported that she had claimed Malaysia was unsafe for migrant workers.
Curbing free speech
In June, the Sedition Act was used by the Johor police to investigate the former Perak mentri besar, Nizar Jamaluddin for his comments on the Sultan of Johore’s purchase of the car registration number plate, WWW1. The number plate had cost the Sultan RM500,000 and Nizar opined that the money could be put to a better use, such as helping the poor.
Kosmo, an Utusan publication which printed two cartoons on the controversy, escaped censure.
“Why the double standard in only charging me whereas no action has been taken against Kosmo for the same offence? Is it because Kosmo is an Umno paper whereas I am a Pakatan leader?” asked Nizar.
At the time, Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer at the Universiti Malaya (UM) also criticised the use of the Sedition Act 1948, to prosecute individuals.
“The underlying theme is the government is using all these powers to curb dissent against the government, to curb criticism of the government.
“What they are doing to Nizar is very clearly to suppress his right to free speech, his opinion. This is obviously a bad law… It is bad faith on their part. If they think something is bad, then don’t use it. Get it fixed first,” said Azmi.
Signs of desperation
It is easy to see what is happening. Najib and members of his Cabinet are clearly showing signs of desperation and fear.
Najib and his administration lack original ideas to push through reforms. They have failed to act on their promises. What happened to the National Harmony Act which Najib promised last June, to replace the Sedition Act?
Malaysia now has an opposition which is strongest and the most credible party to take on the BN government.
The opposition coalition has proved to be a viable alternative. It is not perfect but it shows promise. They won five states in the last election and if the opposition had been a bit more switched on, they should have questioned the veracity of the votes. Perhaps, they might have found out that they had won more states, or even won the election outright.
NGOs, activists and the majority of the rakyat are energised. There is no further need to tolerate Umno’s lies and empty promises.
Arresting Ong is only a means to intimidate and frighten her, and others like her. Another student has been expelled from his private college. This is to make sure his future is bleak. It is like arresting Rafizi Ramli of the opposition. It is meant to scare the rakyat and to stop them embarrassing the government. It is to prevent more whistleblowers from revealing more scandals.
Najib knows how to manipulate social networking sites. He has used them to improve his image. Is he like Newt Gingrich, the US presidential contender, who claimed he had 1,000,000 Twitter followers? Gingrich is alleged to have bought these followers. Had Najib’s expensive foreign PR media advisers bought his Twitter followers for him?
Najib should realise that the young have a powerful tool in social networking sites. It is the medium which brought about Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in Egypt. It is how activists garner support in oppressed middle-eastern countries like Bahrain.
Ong’s experience has gone viral in cyberspace. Her treatment differs from that of Ibrahim Ali and Ridhuan Tee. The message sent out to the young, whose affections Najib has been anxious to cultivate, is clear.
The Malaysian youth understand that there is one law for Umno and another for the rakyat. Moreover, the photo of Ong in handcuffs will be the new symbol of oppression by the administration of Najib.
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.