PEN Malaysia, chapter of the worldwide association of writers, PEN International denounces the increased use of Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) in recent weeks to target writers and members of the public for expressing their views on social media and in the press. South China Morning Post journalist Tashny Sukumaran was questioned by Malaysian Police on 6 May, and the actor and commentator Patrick Teoh was arrested on 9 May and remanded until 14 May.
Despite the fact that freedom of expression is guaranteed in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, Section 233(a) makes it an offence for any person to use a network facility to knowingly make, create, solicit or initiate a communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive with the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person, and carries a penalty of up to RM50,000 or one years’ imprisonment.
Protem President of PEN Malaysia, Bernice Chauly stated, “Rule of law is vital, but rule of bad law is not welcome,” adding, “Section 233 is ‘bad law’ because it is so broad that any Malaysian can make a police report because they are ‘annoyed’, regardless of whether they are the intended recipient or target of a communication. There is no legal definition of what ‘annoyed’ means. This makes S233 especially open to selective interpretation. It is very disturbing that this provision is being used to silence dissenting voices in a punitive manner. PEN Malaysia is deeply concerned about the continued use of Section 233 to target writers and others whose views are critical of those in power.”
Salil Tripathi, Chair, PEN International Writers in Prison Committee also stated, “Malaysia's retreat from the openness it had embraced recently is troubling. It has adverse implications for dissent and freedom of expression. Malaysia has laws which restrict free speech, some of them dating back to the colonial era. Using these laws to stifle dissent is unworthy of a democracy. The threat comes not only from litigation or prosecution, but also in other forms. There have been several cases where people who speak critically have received death threats, threats to personal safety and of rape for their activism and for commenting on social media. Yet little or nothing has been done to protect the rights of those targeted in such attacks. The continuing trend of questioning and detaining writers for expressing their opinions or reporting facts creates a climate of fear and repression that has no place in a dynamic modern democracy.”
PEN Malaysia and PEN International urge the Malaysian Government to focus its attention to address online harassment and bullying, stalking, doxxing, revenge porn, and racial and gender-based harassment rather than threatening writers and members of the public with laws like the Communications and Multimedia Act, the Sedition Act, and other laws in the Penal Code that stifle freedom of expression. It further calls on the Malaysian Government to uphold the right to free speech for all Malaysians, as provided for within Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
PEN International and PEN Malaysia will continue to monitor developments closely.
For further information, please contact:
Romana Cacchioli | Deputy Director | email@example.com