PENANG: Former chief justice Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah has called for a culture of dialogue and freedom of expression that allows citizens to speak out without having the risk of dubious laws clamping down on them.
He said freedom of expression and dissenting voices should not be stifled because that would be akin to suppression of legitimate voices, leading to zero checks and balances.
In his speech at the convocation ceremony of Wawasan Open University (WOU) here on Nov 23, Dzaiddin called on universities to champion freedom of expression.
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, or IDEAS, yesterday uploaded on its website the salient points of Dzaiddin’s speech. Dzaiddin is IDEAS’ special advisor. He is also WOU chancellor.
Taking about citizens’ right to free speech, Dzaiddin said he was reminded of a quote from the first president of the United States, George Washington who said: “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
The former top judge said: “Citizens must be free to point out abuses, corruption, injustices, and any unhealthy happenings and to hold leaders accountable.”
Dzaiddin, who was chief justice from 2000 to 2003, said speaking out for the good of the people and nation was always the right thing to do.
This, he noted, would carry more weight if those in authority, especially leaders and rulers, spoke out and helped transform society for the better.
Dzaiddin said for any nation to progress, “there must be space for dialogue and legitimate opposing views, both online and offline, without the use of dubious laws to clamp down on them”.
But, he quickly pointed out, freedom of speech must not be allowed to become the promotion of hate and division.
He said: “We must not tolerate those who spew hateful speech and violent protests in the name of race and religion. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility for the peace and harmony of the nation. Freedom of expression must be exercised in a spirit of responsibility, without hurting the convictions of another.”
In urging universities to champion freedom of expression, Dzaiddin said university managements had an important role to play in promoting a culture of openness, debate and dialogue through how they managed the university and through their interactions with the students.
“Learning in a university should extend to learning how to disagree and have diverse views about an issue in a healthy way, and these attitudes will then carry into society.
“Universities need to set the correct tone so as to move our society and nation forward on the right path of development, progress and growth. There must be tolerance and respect for critical views.”
Universities, Dzaiddin said, should become the bedrock of legitimate debate, freedom of speech and freedom of expression in matters of public concern so as to preserve the well-being of the nation and its citizens.