The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami) are alarmed that six people have been charged for making comments about the Perak royal family.
The use of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (CMA) violates the Act’s stated promise that it would not be used to censor the internet. CIJ and Wami are also worried that this might be the start of a clampdown on online expression and the erosion of the right to discuss the role of the Malaysian royal families.
The local media reported on 13 March that six people are being charged under section 233(1) of the CMA and section 34 of the Penal Code for “insulting” the Perak royalty. Section 233(1) is broadly worded to penalise the “improper use of facilities or network service, etc”. It carries a jail term of one year and a fine of up to RM50,000.
In Kuala Lumpur, a lab assistant, Azrin Mohd Zain, 33, has pleaded guilty and been fined RM10,000. The others from all over the country are claiming trial.
CIJ and Wami are deeply concerned that a precedent has been set for online censorship using the same law that is said to protect the free flow of information online. It goes against Malaysia’s commitment of no internet censorship legislated in section 3(3) of the CMA and in the Multimedia Bill of Guarantees.
The violation of the promise is a sign that the government, at the brink of the impending change in prime-ministership, is getting more authoritarian.
The charges against the six also come during an on-going political crisis in Perak and we question whether penalising public discussion on the fallibility of the monarchy is also the federal ruling party Barisan Nasional’s attempt to stop the discussion about its role in the political crisis.
We condemn the action against the six, and the reports that further action will be taken, as moves aimed at spreading fear and silencing the Malaysian public.
CIJ and WAMI call for all charges to be dropped and for no further action to be taken against the online commentators. We call for freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution to be respected.
Centre for Independent Journalism
Wong Chin Huat
Writers Alliance for Media Independence