GEORGE TOWN: Prominent human rights activists in the country have upheld the right of the police to disallow Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik from making public speeches in Perlis because of the risk of stirring unrest in the society.
They also felt that the police action did not offend the right to freedom of speech, as that freedom is lost when it veers into hate speech.
Perlis police recently banned Naik from speaking in public at a recent forum, for fear of creating disharmony.
Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) commissioner Jerald Joseph said Naik had lost his right of freedom of speech as his talks contained incitement to hatred.
“Most human rights advocates would say that freedom of speech allows you to say anything, but it has to be guarded against incitement,” he said.
“In the case of Naik, he has technically disqualified himself from exercising the full freedom of speech, following what he had said recently in Kelantan (when he made remarks against Malaysian Hindus). That qualifies as incitement. This does not mean he has lost his right to express himself but he must be reminded and told not to incite hatred, that is a big no no,” he told FMT.
Jerald said when a person’s speeches lead to incitement, society would push back for it to be stopped.
“There is nothing wrong with propagating your faith or saying your religion is the best, but when you talk about other religions or put others down it becomes dangerous.
“Furthermore, not everyone is able to counter him publicly, unless it is at a free debate for all on all religious issues where people could stop him and say, ‘you are wrong’,” he said.
National Human Rights Society (Hakam) executive council member Ambiga Sreenevasan said freedom of speech was lost when its content could affect the peace of the community at large.
“Freedom of speech does not include the right to make hate speeches or speeches that have the potential to create a breach of the peace or spark hate crimes,” she said.
Ambiga said Adama Dieng, a UN adviser on genocide prevention had summed up the dangers of hate speech—that hate crime often began as a result of hate speech.
Lawyers for Liberty adviser N Surendran said there was no denial of freedom of speech in banning Naik from giving a public speech in Perlis as he has shown an inclination to make remarks that were incendiary.
“Freedom of speech does not include freedom to make statements that may lead to a breach of peace or breach of public order.
“The police had reasonable grounds to believe that Naik will make such statements in view of his inflammatory speech in Kelantan and particularly since he has shown no remorse whatsoever over the racially provocative words he uttered in that speech.
“Hence, they rightly took action. No issue of any denial of freedom of speech arises here,” he said.
Perlis police had earlier told Naik that he was not welcome to give speeches in the state, for fear it would “disturb the harmony” there.
Police have since summoned Naik to record his statement after over 100 police reports were lodged against him, following controversial remarks about Malaysian Hindus and Malaysian Chinese which members of the two communities regarded as objectionable.
Naik has been wanted in India since 2016 for investigations into money laundering and inciting extremism through hate speech.