Saifuddin backs repealing law that could curb Net freedom
UPDATED @ 11:28:17 PM 11-08-2012
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 ― Deputy Minister of Higher Education Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah today said he supports repealing the controversial Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950, widely seen as an attempt to curb Internet freedom, despite the clause only being four months old.
The amendment to the Evidence Act, which was passed in Parliament on April 18 after it was first tabled on April 10, is now in force after it was gazetted on July 31.
“I am all for repealing Section 114A,” Saifuddin told reporters today, saying that there should be an alternative to the legal clause.
Earlier, the Umno supreme council member had spoken at a public forum on whether Section 114A signals the end of internet freedom.
“As a Barisan Nasional guy who supports democratic reforms and... a mature democracy, I take this as a hiccup,” he said.
The other forum panellists were lawyers Faisal Moideen, Foong Cheng Leong and K. Shanmuga.Critics have pointed out that Section 114A is too broad and contains several weaknesses, such as assuming that an administrator of a website, or an owner of a computer, is the publisher of the content unless it can be proven otherwise.
They have also pointed out that the clause is important in cases involving defamation or the Sedition Act — which the government has promised to repeal.
Although Faisal acknowledged that part of the clause was too broad when it was drafted, he said that Section 114A does not create an offence or impose a presumption of guilt.
He argued the presumption of "fact of publication" is not enough to prove one guilty in court, saying "if other elements of the crime or claim is not proven, the claim will still fail."
He conceded that "if it is a sole element of the crime, it could be a problem."
Shanmuga pointed out the practical results of the clause, saying that the alleged publisher would have to spend money on lawyers and suffer reputation loss due to the presumption.
"To say we can go to court and disprove the burden doesn't reflect the reality that will be faced by an ordinary man on the street," he said.
He also said that the Parliament had passed the proposed law within a few hours although "this was not an urgent Bill".
Foong claimed that Section 114A "is like a tool to beat Internet users up," saying this doesn't match with the BN administration's move to appeal to the Internet crowd such as the use of social network site Twitter.
The forum was jointly organised by the Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC), Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights (MCCHR) and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).
CIJ has slammed the clause for presuming guilt instead of innocence and for making service providers liable for hosting content published by others.
The Internet Blackout Day campaign launched by CIJ will take place on this August 14.