From William de Cruz
The arrest of Kean Wong, a Malaysian who edited the book titled “Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, And Hope in New Malaysia”, is another alarming example of actions by the country’s enforcement agencies that reasonable-minded Malaysians can only see as unjustifiable.
Online news reports state that Wong’s detention stems from a case that goes back three years, when Bukit Aman’s criminal investigation department launched a probe into the book.
Malaysians were told the probe stemmed from more than 200 police reports lodged in protest of the book, and specifically an artistic interpretation of the national coat of arms on the cover.
Based on publicly available information, the contents of the book – a compilation of essays by a number of writers, edited by Wong, that focused on the 2018 change in government – have not been called into question.
Nevertheless, Wong now faces possible charges under the Emblems and Names Act 2016, the Sedition Act 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, as well as the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.
Wong’s detention follows several other markers in Malaysia’s recent past that point to an expanding environment of highly selective suppression, and the clamping down on freedom of thought, choice, and expression.
Malaysians continue to endure dress codes in public places, which appear to be nothing but the imposition of clothing standards determined by public department heads.
Today, security guards at hospitals interpret these dress codes and prevent people from entering if they deem them to be unsuitably dressed. We have seen rainbow-themed watches being confiscated, raids on bookstores and publishing businesses.
We are now reading about the arrest of a book editor on the grounds that the artist’s work on the cover of the book is possibly an act that calls for criminal punishment.
As these incidents keep unfolding, a Malaysian government supposedly voted in on the promise of reform and justice for all is largely seen as silent.
In the meantime, what the “ordinary Malaysian” may view as seditious statements and actions by politicians on the election trail solicit at most a slap on the wrist, while longstanding corruption charges against a deputy prime minister are not pursued.
Malaysians who continue to invest hope in, and ongoing support for, the Pakatan Harapan coalition government are feeling more and more discouraged and disenfranchised because of Putrajaya’s silence in the face of these unjustifiable actions.
A deeply worrying picture of uncontrolled authoritarianism is clearly emerging, and Malaysians are waiting for their elected representatives and the central government to deliver leadership, direction and decisive action on these matters before things spiral out of control.
In the case of Wong and the book he has edited, one glaring question emerges: was the controversy sparked and fuelled by political parties and alliances that did not want a change of government?
The conundrum facing Malaysians is this: on one hand, they know that only the actions of Putrajaya may bring proper closure to these controversies. On the other hand, Malaysians acknowledge that the federal government would only pour fuel on the flames of these controversies if it were to break public silence.
We may hope that Putrajaya is acting behind the scenes, rather than publicly challenging remnants of an ousted establishment that seeks to return.
Malaysians may also hope that charges that may be laid against Wong are dismissed and that he and his family in Malaysia are left free from all further harassment.
William de Cruz is the founding president of Global Bersih and a Bersih Sydney volunteer.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.