Comango: ‘Uncalled for’ to threaten anti-terror law against free speech

PETALING JAYA, Feb 19 —  The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) made an “uncalled for” threat when he warned that a law designed to tackle terrorism would be used on those commenting on racial and religious matters, said a group critical of the move today.
According to the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango), citizens were at liberty to express their opinions on public matters, even if these originated from government agencies, since the latter is actually beholden to the public.
“I think the statement by the IGP is totally uncalled for…  Threatening people who are exercising this freedom is going against human rights commitment that has been made by Malaysian government in the Federal Constitution as well as through the international community,” said Yap Swee Seng of human rights watchdog Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), which is part of Comango.
Last Sunday, federal police chief Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar warned Malaysians that they could face Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) for comments that could worsen the current racial and religious tension.
As an example, the IGP said he received a complaint about the mockery aimed at Malaysian Islamic Development Department’s (Jakim) Friday sermon that warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine’s Day last week.
Yap added that as taxpayers, the public has the right to voice their opinions of public agencies.
Denying citizens such rights and threatening them is a show of authoritarianism, Yap claimed.
Lawyers have also slammed the use of Sosma to rein in racial and religious tension as “overkill” and even “unlawful”, warning that the move may deny a person from getting a fair trial.
Resorting to Sosma would be an “overkill” as the law is meant for situations where there are real and immediate danger such as “armed invasion or riots or racial clashes”, said Eric Paulsen, the co-founder of legal aid group, Lawyers for Liberty, in this morning’s article on The Malay Mail Online.
He said the country’s existing laws were sufficient for the police’s use, citing as example Sections 295 to 298A of the Penal Code, for offences concerning religion, Sections 503 to 505 of the same law for racist and provocative speeches, as well as Section 436 for firebombing offences.
Syahredzan Johan said the police would be overstepping the powers given to them under the Sosma if the law was used against alleged perpetrators of racial and religious tension.
The civil liberties lawyer pointed out that Sosma can only be used for “security offences”, with the law defining it to be offences found under Chapter IV and IVA of the Penal Code.
These two chapters are on offences against the government such as waging war against the country’s ruler Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and activities designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional methods, as well as terrorism, Syahredzan said.