Mariam Mokhtar: How to Stop Malaysians from Expressing an Opinion?

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Charge them with sedition. Cyber-bully them.

Many Malaysians have been arrested and threatened with sedition because they made remarks on social media, about an issue which was already in the public domain. Even local and foreign journalists who filed reports, including social activists and members of non-government organisations (NGOs) have been investigated for sedition. Threatening citizens prove that the government is very insecure.

So, what do a group of students, an actor and a politician have in common? Like us, these people expressed an opinion, and later found that they have been threatened with a charge of sedition, for their comments about royalty.

The students are part of the University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany), the actor is Patrick Teoh and the politician is the DAP assemblyman for Sungai Pelek, Ronnie Liu.

The students had published a treatise which questioned the role of the monarchy in the Federal Constitution, where it was stated that the king should “…not interfere in national affairs, to maintain a neutral stance and to play his role within the scope of the Federal Constitution.”

Umany students.

If students, who may one day become the country’s leaders are not allowed to discuss, dissect and analyse the arguments they put forward to support their views, then why do we bother having an institution of higher learning?

Umany’s statement was issued after Muhyiddin Yassin’s request to implement an emergency had been rejected by the king, who then advised all parliamentarians to support the government’s Budget 2021 Bill.

Instead of applauding the students’ initiative in promoting academic discussion of an important topic, police reports were lodged against Umany. Its president and vice-president were quizzed for several hours at the police station, threats were issued on social media, its members were accused of treason and of belonging to a communist organisation.

Meanwhile, the university said that it would investigate the Umany members. How silly is that? A university is supposed to encourage intelligent discourse. The students have more sense than to insult or denigrate the king.

So, what happened to the freedom of expression of university students which is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and also stipulated in Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Last June, the actor, Teoh, was charged under Section 233 (1)(a), for allegedly insulting the Johore crown prince, and the royal institution.

The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, is often criticised for meddling in politics.  Charles’ brother, Andrew, who once had friendly ties with a convicted paedophile has been removed from the post of special trade envoy, by the British government. Spanish citizens often criticise their former king, Juan Carlos 1, for his adultery, allegations of corruption and his love of hunting, despite being an honorary president for the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Why would a nation prevent its citizens from commenting on issues which affect their lives, and the reputation of their country?

Liu had published a post on his Facebook page, which showed a photo of the recent demonstrations in Thailand calling for a reform of the Thai monarchy.

Only a deaf and blind person, would fail to notice what is happening in neighbouring countries. What if that person happens to visit that country or has personal or business links there? Why did the Malaysian authorities over-react to these valid observations? Are we an island, cut-off from civilisation?

At school, the student who dares to question a teacher is usually punished or humiliated in front of his class. When he becomes an adult, his tyrannical teacher is his only role model for acting in public.

At home, the child who dares to answer his parents and elders may be severely scolded, so he learns to keep quiet, even when he sees something wrong. As an adult, he will have learnt that to speak out will invite a thrashing. He has learnt bad behaviour from bad parenting and schooling.

The child is not allowed to be intellectually challenged by verbal discourse. As an adult, he may dish out the same treatment he received at school, or at home, when he disagrees with people who contradict him.

Today, many responsible journalists, columnists and cartoonists face the same hurdles as those people, who have been threatened with a charge of sedition. They would like to get their message across, but editorial censorship will dilute their messages, or remove them altogether.

When a newspaper publisher reaches the big league, corporate bodies and advertisers breathing down the editor’s neck may force the drawing or article to be pulled. If it is published, government watchdogs and state-sponsored bigots (cybertroopers) are the next obstacle. Many newspapers are forced to self-censor before they get to this stage.

Today, many of us are gagged because the bigots disagree with our views. The authorities use the power of sedition to stop its citizens from having a mature, intelligent discussion about major issues which affect our lives.

The threat of sedition is a coward’s way of controlling and manipulating public behaviour. It is a sign of insecurity.

So, how long will it be, before the state and its agents, start to censure people who disagree with them on the minor issues? – Rebuilding Malaysia