Shrinking space for freedom


Have a look at this documentary by Aljazeera.

And check out Aliran’s Crackdown Watch list of those targeted by the authorities.

Issues and trends

Why is the space for freedom shrinking? Is it because certain quarters are worried about the growing support for dissenting voices and the declining credibility of the current administration?

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  1. Freedom of expression is under severe threat in Malaysia as Prime Minister Najib Razak seeks to strengthen the repressive Sedition Act of 1948. Activists, opposition politicians, journalists and even social media users are under threat as Sedition Act continues to stifle dissent.

    In 2009, Prime Minister Najib Razak came into office with a promise to repeal the colonial-era Sedition Act of 1948 – but has instead rushed through amendments to strengthen it. The sedition law bans any action, speech or publication that brings contempt against the Malaysian government or royal sultans. Since his term began, the prime minister has zealously used it to silence critics. In 2015 alone, 91 individuals were arrested as a result of the Sedition Act.This is nearly five times as many as during the first 50 years of the Act’s existence.

    Malaysia is one of the most troubling countries for freedom of expression in the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). The Sedition Act has led many people to exercise self-censorship over recent years, with a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Malaysia. Crackdowns and arrests of people peacefully exercising their freedoms of assembly and expression have become alarmingly common.

    Deterred from the streets, many activists retreated to the internet, where they were able to express themselves without fear – much like you or I. Now, with invasive surveillance regimes and a proliferation of online offences, there are few places left for people to gather, speak or write freely. Those who do face swift retaliation.

    Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as “Zunar”, is a political cartoonist whose art has long been featured in online news portal Zunar uses his cartoons to expose corruption and the abuse of power and has often said, “Neutrality is a form of escapism. Staying silent is not an option. Even my pen has a stand!”

    Now, Zunar is on bail, charged with a record nine counts of sedition – one for each tweet he made following a Federal Court ruling in February 2015 upholding the conviction of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy.

    If convicted, Zunar faces up to 43-year prison sentence for exercising his right of freedom of expression.

    Neutrality is a form of escapism. Staying silent is not an option. Even my pen has a stand!”

    Human rights lawyer and an opposition member of Parliament, N Surendran, who represented Anwar Ibrahim’s case, also faces lengthy jail time for criticising the Court of Appeal’s ruling. Surendran allegedly criticised the Malaysian Prime Minister for mounting a “political conspiracy” against Anwar Ibrahim.

    Surendran’s lawyer argued that he has committed no offence under the Sedition Act and his actions were consistent with his constitutional right to free speech. On 14 April, the High Court of Kuala Lumpur rejected the challenge. Surendran is currently appealing the decision to the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya.

    Human rights activists, artists, lawyers, peaceful campaigners – people like Zunar and Surendran – are part of the hope and future of the ASEAN region. They deserve the basic human rights of respect and the freedom to express themselves peacefully, whenever and however they so choose.

    Amnesty International is deeply concerned that individuals in Malaysia continue to be arrested, detained, harassed and charged under the Sedition Act and other existing laws. Leaders must guarantee the freedoms of expression and assembly for all people, releasing immediately and unconditionally anyone arrested solely for peaceful dissent.

    Amnesty International is urging the Malaysian government to immediately drop charges against all individuals charged or pending under the Sedition Act and to repeal the Act and other repressive laws completely.

    Source: Amnesty International

  2. Malaysia “intensified” its crackdown on freedom of expression and other civil and political rights in 2015, the latest Amnesty International report on the State of the World’s Human Rights said.

    The Sedition Act was amended and its scope made wider to cover electronic media and include harsher penalties “such as mandatory and increased prison sentences”, the report said. Amnesty added that the colonial-era law, which has been abolished in the United Kingdom itself, had been used to press charges against “at least 15 people” throughout last year. It mentioned political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, as one of them. The report also noted the passing of the National Security Council (NSC) Bill by Parliament last December. The bill gives “emergency-like” powers to a committee headed by the prime minister to declare an area under emergency and conduct searches, arrests and seizures without warrants.

  3. UK PM Cameron is unveiling a new anti terror act just like the US which also have the Patriot Act.

    The UK is too “passively tolerant” and should not leave people to live their lives as they please as long as they obey the law, David Cameron has said. At the National Security Council today Mr Cameron unveiled a series of measures that he…

    “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’,”

    Don`t you think so that Malaysia is doing the right thing. Many people are now taking freedom for granted. Only trouble makers will feel that freedom is shrinking for them because they are only interested in themselves not others. So there should be no cause for complain or rejection of our country`s Sedition & POTA.

  4. Stupid indeed for the authority to suppress the voice of rakyat when people can now share information freely and speedily on social media like FB, Whatsapp, Line etc

    • True, many Whatapps messages are short and straight to the point, with impactful images and graphics.
      No need to refer to mainstream media.


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