PETALING JAYA: She called out the faults of the system as she saw them, but lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri may now pay the price for voicing her views as police investigations of her “seditious” remarks in a blog article which allegedly questioned the monarchy are currently underway.
Many of her supporters are unhappy with what they see as the current administration falling into the repressive ways of the old government and are calling for the investigation to be halted.
Whether Fadiah will be cleared remains to be seen. The bigger question now is whether the new government will keep its word and allow freedom of speech and expression, as promised in the 14th general election.
Some say Pakatan Harapan (PH) has already gone back on its word to be more inclusive in its administration, following its silence over the case of the gay aide to Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, who recently walked out after running into trouble with the old guard.
Many see the sedition case against Fadiah as a case of “an old wine in a new bottle”.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia’s (PSM) Suresh Balasubramaniam warned PH not to follow in Barisan Nasional’s (BN) footsteps. He noted that strongman Khairy Jamaluddin had in the end regretted not speaking out on issues surrounding former prime minister Najib Razak.
“I believe one of the causes of BN’s election loss was because it was not able to accurately gauge the people’s feelings because they suppressed free speech. This meant that they fatally underestimated the voters’ disenchantment.
“BN dug its own grave because of that,” the socialist party’s Cameron Highlands Youth chief told FMT.
“It’s good to see prominent PH people and party supporters criticising their own government, and it should continue,” he said, adding that he fully supported Fadiah.
Thomas Fann of pro-reform NGO ENGAGE, who has himself been investigated by police, agreed.
“The previous administration under BN was permitted to become corrupt and arrogant because most citizens failed to speak out. Not only that, we kept them in power for 61 years with our votes,” he said.
“Ultimately they almost destroyed our country. As loyal citizens, we must never make that same mistake again.”
Rights lawyer Eric Paulsen said credit should be given to PH as it had already kept its word, following Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad asking the police to stop investigations into his own critics two months ago.
DAP veteran Dr Boo Cheng Hau said while he disagreed with Fadiah’s views, she nonetheless had a constitutional right to speak her mind, and that PH should not be exempt from criticism.
But Boo said there was nothing wrong with PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim’s visit to a Malay ruler.
The visit, and a picture showing Anwar kissing the ruler’s hand, is at the centre of Fadiah’s article which led her to trouble with the authorities.
Her comments caused a backlash from Malay rights group Perkasa, which urged police to investigate her for sedition and trying to incite hatred towards the Malay rulers.
“Anwar, in good faith, merely wanted to show respect to Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, and to build bridges between the new government and the rulers, a move which should not be misinterpreted,” said Boo.
A recent example of criticism within PH itself came when PKR’s Latheefa Koya questioned the “Tabung Harapan” to pay off national debts, calling the donation drive politically charged after a DAP leader accepted savings from a schoolboy.
Latheefa said there was nothing wrong with Fadiah’s criticism.
“Some things need to be said in public because they are a real concern to the public,” she told FMT.
“Otherwise, we’ll be accused of keeping quiet when our friends and other people are doing something wrong.”
PSM central committee member S Arutchelvan said it would be a waste of public funds for authorities to open investigations into sedition cases as PH had already said it would repeal the act.
“We have freedom of expression. As participants in a mature democracy, Malaysians have a choice to freely voice their views on issues surrounding royalty, LGBT matters, and so on. Let there be discussion and stop criminalising it,” he said.
Sisters in Islam, an organisation committed to promoting the rights of women within the framework of Islam and universal human rights, said the government should even go so far as to encourage open criticism by quickly getting rid of repressive laws such as the recently passed Anti Fake News Bill 2018.