Time government trusted its own citizens
|Syazwan Zainal is a reluctant law student at The University of Warwick, writer-wannabe, actor-aspirant, professional procrastinator who dreams of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor and Nobel Prize for Literature. He is a fierce idealist and non-conformist and would love to rid the world of football. He also writes for CEKU at www.ceku.org.|
JUNE 12 — Last week, a friend posted a documentary on my Facebook wall; it was about Chin Peng’s personal life and political views. It was entitled “The Last Communist Man”. You can check it out on YouTube here — it is funny, a joy to watch and informative: something that cannot be said about any of the mainstream media’s documentaries.
Although it was hardly radical, it was somewhat sympathetic to the left-wing cause. Mere minutes later, he decided to delete the video on my wall for fear of possible repercussions. My parents, when told that I was planning to comment on the issue of freedom of expression in Malaysia, advised me against it.
Such is the fear endemic in the psyche of Malaysians. I had personal reservations when writing this piece too. Therein lies the exact reason as to why the government needs to reform its policies on criticism and must strive to be more liberal in allowing freedom of expression.
To be fair, I am not suggesting that the Malaysian government is on par with George Orwell’s Big Brother from his seminal novel “1984.” But fear and apathy is prevalent amongst Malaysians. The forceful rhetoric of certain politicians and some government policies are ensuring that criticism is curtailed.
The recently passed Evidence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2012 is worrying. Not only must one bear in mind the fact that the political process through which the amendment was passed was highly questionable (there was barely any debate on the legislation because it was pushed through Parliament), it goes against the notion that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The amendment shifts the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the defendant. What does this mean? In essence, there exists a presumption of guilt unless proven otherwise. For instance, the defendant must prove that the wrongful post made on his website or through his Wi-Fi connection was not made by him but by someone else.
This is difficult to do given that the defendant is, more often than not, an individual with limited resources. Needless to say this endangers innocent parties. Surely it is far worse to punish an innocent person than to let a guilty man walk free.
It is disappointing that our de facto law minister Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz has forgotten something that is taught to all law students. One need not have taken any course on law to understand the morality of the issue at hand. It is abhorrent to punish an innocent person; therefore the law is equipped with certain presumptions and instruments to ensure that the possibility of that happening is diminished.
Maybe there are exceptional circumstances (such as during a national emergency, at times of war and conflict, etc.) whereby it is appropriate to derogate from such an important and basic legal norm, but I see no reason to suspect that such a circumstance has arisen. The statement that our minister has provided suggests an utter disregard for our rights as Malaysian citizens.
Due to the use of pseudonyms and anonymity prevalent in the Internet, the minister argues that it is hard to catch the culprit of an offence. But, just because it is hard to prosecute the wrongdoer, it does not mean that the government has the licence to endanger innocent parties.
The fear that is institutionalised through legislation trickles down to the psyche of a number of citizens. Lately the fear is fed by the slight kerfuffle of whether or not the royalty should be exposed to criticism. When the Road Transport Department revealed the list of successful bidders of the much sought after “WWW” registration numbers, which included the Sultan of Johor and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, many were not too happy about what entailed. But what interests me is not the appropriateness of the expenditure, as I am sure His Highnesses are themselves highly regarded individuals, but what ensued afterwards.
When a certain politician criticised the Sultan, many were up in arms against this politician. Some even went as far as to state that the said politician should be barred from entering the state.
I am not the first person to point out the foolishness of this assertion. The respectable Dr MAZA has refuted our overzealous protection of royalty from criticism through the prism of Islamic knowledge, which is commendable. It is striking to note that the most radical voices come not from the royalty but from certain politicians. The institution of royalty, like any other entity, must continue to evolve to survive in an ever-changing world. I am certain that His Highnesses are adept and more than capable of doing that.
Banning of books? Really?
The religious authorities unsurprisingly seized Irshad Manji’s book “Allah, Liberty & Love — Courage to Reconcile Faith and Freedom” as its content was deemed contrary to Islamic teachings.
It escapes me how books can pose such a danger to society that it is necessary to ban them. The powers-that-be must respect the autonomy and intellectual integrity of Malaysians. This paternalistic action is not only morally wrong but also counter-productive.
The banning of such books will only have the effect of sensationalising the work, thus making it seem even more appealing to some. Let’s be honest here, all a person needs to do is to go online and one can get a hold of any book that is banned in Malaysia. Trust us
It seemed disconcerting and somewhat laughable that the citizens who voted our beloved politicians into office in the first place are now required to seek permission from these very same individuals to grant us back what is ours to begin with: our freedom and liberties granted to us through the Federal Constitution.
It is high time that the government trusted its own citizens when it comes to expressing themselves. I am not suggesting that we revamp our legal system to be similar to the US Constitution’s that is ruggedly individualistic in its protection of freedom of expression. A mere re-evaluation of the different interests is quite sufficient.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.