Don’t clamp down on free speech, deputy home minister told

Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen says in the ‘new’ Malaysia, the executive shouldn’t be directing law enforcement agencies to clamp down on freedom of speech.

PETALING JAYA: Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman should be careful not to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration by using the threat of punishment to respond to rumours, says a prominent human rights lawyer.

Speaking to FMT, Fortify Rights legal director Eric Paulsen said in the “new” Malaysia, the executive shouldn’t be directing law enforcement agencies to clamp down on any form of free speech.

He was commenting on Azis’ recent remarks in which he dismissed allegations that he had given his consent to the distribution of citizenship forms to illegal immigrants in Sabah, saying the claims were aimed at smearing Parti Warisan Sabah’s reputation.

“I have ordered police to investigate this matter, and if we find out who is behind this, we will arrest them and take stern action,” he told reporters in Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah’s long-standing illegal immigrant issue has been a sore point for many of its people. In the 1990s, the so-called “Projek IC” resulted in identity cards being issued to illegal immigrants.

Paulsen said if there was no truth to the rumours, Azis should just issue a statement to deny them.

“It would also be an abuse of power to direct authorities to act against someone as it affects freedom of speech.”

He said the current government shouldn’t use the “stick” approach used by their predecessors who investigated their opponents under various acts like the Sedition Act, Penal Code and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Act.

Latheefa Koya.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Latheefa Koya questioned under what law Azis was demanding arrests, saying such behaviour was reminiscent of the former Barisan Nasional administration.

“As a minister, he is entitled to no better protection than the ordinary Malaysian. If he is unhappy with such statements, then it’s up to him to file a civil suit for defamation,” she told FMT.

“If he has them arrested, he will be guilty of gross abuse of power and should be sacked immediately.”

Ramkarpal Singh.

DAP’s Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said Azis should lodge a police report so the police can investigate the matter.

“It is not for the deputy home minister to decide whether an offence has taken place. There’s no doubt the allegation is serious and shouldn’t be made recklessly.

“But it is for the police to investigate and act accordingly if they find an offence has been committed.”

Meanwhile, Durie Rainer Fong reports that Sabah activist Zulkarnain Mahdar had told Azis to learn to differentiate between his post as a deputy minister and his role as the Warisan Youth chief.

Zulkarnain Mahdar.

“His action will cause concern among the public, including netizens and political activists like myself, to speak up.

“He should be fair to all, including netizens and even the opposition.”

He said the Sepanggar MP should have urged his party members to lodge a police report over the matter and let the authorities investigate if there was any element of slander.

“And afterwards let the courts decide. Telling the police to arrest is not right. This is a democratic country and the people should always speak up,” he said.

Zulkarnain said the comments in social media mostly involved people concerned that another Project IC (systematic issuing of Malaysian identity cards to illegal immigrants) was in the offing.

“The 2012 royal commission of inquiry on illegal immigrants showed ICs were issued to illegal immigrants and it was done during Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s previous tenure as prime minister.

“And the forms that have gone viral now contain logos of certain organisations and parties. So, it’s only fair for people to ask about all these.

“The netizens are merely worried history will repeat itself. And this is reflected in their comments,” Zulkarnain said.