FREEDOM AFTER SPEECH?

By: Nigel Lo (2011)
Freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one's opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment. "Speech" is not limited to public speaking and is generally taken to include other forms of expression. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on slander and libel. This essay will aim to discuss the censorship of free speech in Malaysia. This essay will also present arguments to what extent free speech should be considered acceptable in our society. In examination of the country Malaysia, democracy takes a different view towards free speech and the censorship of free speech is clear in the eyes of any observant individual who has observed and read the daily papers every few months. The Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) (Malay: Akta Keselamatan Dalam Negeri) is a preventive detention law in force in Malaysia. The legislation was enacted after Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. The ISA allows for detention without trial or criminal charges under limited, legally defined circumstances. On 15 September 2011, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak said that this legislation will be repealed and replaced by two new laws. The ISA would only be repealed in March 2012. Preventive detention was first implemented in Malaya by the British in 1948 to combat the armed insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency. The Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 was enacted by the British High Commissioner Sir Edward Gent. It allowed the detention of persons for a period not exceeding one year. This ordinance targeted at acts of violence and only imposed temporary detention. The stated purpose of the ISA was to deter communist activity in Malaysia during the Malayan Emergency and afterwards. The first Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, defined the purpose of the act as to "be used solely against the communists...My Cabinet colleagues and I gave a solemn promise to Parliament and the nation that the immense powers given to the government under the ISA would never be used to stifle legitimate opposition and silence lawful dissent". The third Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn, stated at the same time that his administration had enforced the act only with a view to curbing communist activity, and not to repress "lawful political opposition and democratic citizen activity. Since 1960 when the Act was enacted, hordes of citizens including trade unionists, student leaders, labour activists, political activists, religious groups, academicians, NGO activists have been arrested under the ISA. Many political activists in the past have been detained for more than a decade. The ISA has been consistently used against people who criticise the government and defend human rights. Known by the country as the "white terror", it has been the most feared and despised, yet convenient tool for the state to suppress opposition and open debate. The Act is seen by some as an instrument maintained by the ruling government to control public life and civil society. The case of Raja Petra Kamarudin, a well known blogger of Malaysia Today website, detained under the Internal Security Act on 12 September 2008 and was subsequently released 56 days later, was due to the habeas corpus filed by his lawyer citing

unlawful detention by the Home Ministry. The High court, on 7 November 2008, over ruled that detention and he was set free on the same day. Several opposition parties such as the PanMalaysian Islamic Party (PAS), the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) have spoken out against the ISA. Many of them have leaders or prominent members who were held under the ISA, such as Muhammad Sabu of PAS, Lim Kit Siang, Karpal Singh and Lim Guan Eng of the DAP, and Anwar Ibrahim of the PKR. Operation Lalang (Weeding Operation; also referred to as Ops Lalang) was carried out on October 27, 1987 by the Malaysian police to crack down on opposition leaders and social activists. The operation saw the arrest of 106 persons under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the revoking of the publishing licenses of two dailies, The Star and the Sin Chew Jit Poh and two weeklies, The Sunday Star and Watan. The detainees were kept at the usual place used for ISA detainees, at “Kamunting Detention Center”. Although most of the detainees were released either conditionally or unconditionally, 40 were issued detention order of two years. Included were Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh plus five other party colleagues, a number of PAS members and many social activists. A categorization of the initially named detainees, numbering 97, gives the following breakdown: political parties: 37; social movements: 23; individuals: 37. So yes perhaps Malaysia has freedom of speech but does it have freedom after speech? In a Murdoch university lecture, Associate Professor David Brown did a survey and stated his conclusion that “free speech is good but to an extent”. The question posed here is “…to what extent?” The democratic spirit that both Malaysia and Australia embraces should advocate unlimited boundaries of free speech. Advocates and opposition leaders of the Malaysian government should be given the right to advocate as long as their advocacies are not apt to deceive and lie to the community. In conclusion, every individual in the country should be given the right to advocate. Similar to that of David Irving and Holocaust denial, free speech is fantastic but up to a point to which the content of the speech are lies or apt to deceive, it must come to a halt. This can be argued to be the extent and limit of free speech.

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