KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 22 — The burden of proof is on Umno Youth to show that it is not the publisher of controversial remarks suggesting that a vote for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will result in Christianity becoming the country’s official religion, due to recent amendments to the Evidence Act, lawyers have said.
Umno Youth has claimed that the person who put up the poster with the controversial remarks was “unauthorised” to do so and that the page was not its official Facebook page.
The poster, which was uploaded last Saturday and taken down the same day, appeared to suggest that votes for federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will cause Islam to be replaced by Christianity as the country’s official religion.
It had read: “Jika anda setuju untuk jadikan KRISTIAN sebagai agama rasmi persekutuan Malaysia, teruskan sokongan anda kepada Pakatan Rakyat. (If you agree to make CHRISTIANITY the official religion of the federation of Malaysia, continue supporting Pakatan Rakyat.) ‘God bless you my son’.”
If Umno Youth is brought to court over the “unauthorised” Facebook post, it would be the test case for the newly-enforced Section 114A of the Evidence Act that has already seen widespread opposition from the public.
Section 114A makes even coffee shops offering free Wi-Fi services liable for any defamatory or criminal acts of customers using computers at their premises.
The new law creates a presumption that any registered user of network services is presumed to be the publisher of a publication sent from a computer linked to that network service, if he cannot show otherwise
The Section also provides that any “person whose name, photograph or pseudonym appears on any publication depicting himself as the owner, host, administrator, editor or sub-editor, or who in any manner facilitates to publish or re-publish the publication is presumed to have published or re-published the contents of the publication unless the contrary is proved.”
Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan told The Malaysian Insider that Section 114A would impose a presumption that Umno Youth had published the poster, but notes that “this factual presumption is not tested in court” yet.
“But say, for whatever reason, Umno Youth is charged under the Sedition Act for promoting ill will between the Muslim and Christian communities, the factual presumption would operate,” Syahredzan said.
“All the prosecution would need to prove is that the Umno Youth is stated to be the owner or administrator of the Facebook page,” he said, noting that it is “quite easy to do so” as the page “represents itself as Umno Youth’s”.
Once that is proven, Umno Youth would be “presumed to be the publisher of the post” and would then need to “rebut this presumption”, he added.
“This is a perfect example of the absurdity and injustice of Section 114A in operation.”
The prime minister had on Twitter last week said his Cabinet would review the law after several organisations ― including the Malaysian Bar ― chose to black out their websites to signal their opposition to the law.
A day later, however, Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim announced that the law will stay.
Foong Cheng Leong, the Kuala Lumpur Bar IT committee co-chair, agreed with Syahredzan, saying that “if we follow (Section) 114A, looking at subsection 1, it seems that the presumption of fact is that Umno Youth is the publisher of the poster.”
He said there is an “impression that it’s a legitimate Pemuda Umno page”, saying that the Facebook page, which has over 50,000 “likes”, features Umno Youth’s logo and the party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s photograph.
Foong said that Section 114A is unclear on a number of things, saying that it “does not say when the presumption is rebutted.”
“We don’t know if a police report is sufficient to rebut the presumption,” he said, saying that “we’re left at the unknown stage.”
“Can the media go and tell everybody that Pemuda Umno is the publisher of the poster? Can the media publish it as fact because in the law it’s presumed as fact?” he asked.
When asked if there was any law for Umno Youth to fall back on in court, the lawyer said there is “no exemption under (Section) 114A” and “the only thing they can do is come out with proof it’s not them.”
Lawyer Faisal Moideen shared Foong’s view, saying that “making a police report may not be enough because it seems to be a bare denial.”
However, he defended the law and stressed that it does not impose a presumption of guilt but only the presumption of fact of publication.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean they have committed a crime,” he said, adding that “it takes more than just publication to make a person guilty.”
Based on his reading of the law, he said “you don’t have to show who did it, you have to show you didn’t publish it” to rebut the presumption.