|Press Release | Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 Creates a Chilling Effect on Freedom of Speech and Expression, and Should be Repealed|
|Monday, 21 December 2015 05:12pm|
The Malaysian Bar is deeply concerned over the use of Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (“CMA”) which, among others, criminalises the use of network facilities or network services by a person to transmit any communication that is deemed to be offensive and could cause annoyance to another person.
Section 233(3) of the CMA stipulates, upon conviction, the imposition of a maximum fine of RM50,000 or a maximum one-year jail term or both, as well as a further fine of RM1,000 for every day the offence is continued after conviction.
Section 233(1)(a) has been frequently used, and recently against the following persons and entities:
Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA is a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 10(1)(a) of our Federal Constitution. While Parliament may impose restrictions on this fundamental constitutional liberty, such restrictions must be reasonable and proportionate. The extremely wide and draconian effect of Section 233(1)(a) renders it an impermissible restriction, inasmuch as it unduly negates the exercise of the right to speech and expression.
Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA is also repugnant to the rule of law, as it is broad in scope, vague and ambiguous, with entirely subjective terms such as “offensive” and “annoy”. It can easily be misused to stifle speech and expression, to shut out contrary views, to quash dissent, to deny democratic space, and to suppress Malaysians. It is this imprecision that gives rise to the perception that the provision is yet another dressed-up political weapon in the armoury of the Government.
In any event, there can certainly be no basis for Section 233(1)(a) to be invoked against any person who calls for the Prime Minister to step down. It is absurd to criminalise the exercise of such a legitimate democratic right. Peaceful change to the executive leadership of a nation is part and parcel of democracy. The Prime Minister must accept that the price for being in office includes constant scrutiny and criticism, and this could include calls for him to resign.
The continuous use of Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA to clamp down on views, discourse and expression, and to restrict democratic space, creates a climate of fear that threatens to silence Malaysians. Section 233 (1)(a) suffocates not only freedom of expression and freedom of speech in Malaysia, but more critically, freedom of thought. In this age of connectivity, where the exchange of ideas and information is rife, no nation that aspires to be recognised and accepted as a world leader in ideas and intellectualism can afford to raise an unquestioning and non-discerning population.
The Malaysian Bar therefore calls upon the Government to cease its use of Section 233(1)(a) of the CMA, and to repeal Section 233 of the CMA. The chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression that is created by its use must be eliminated.
21 December 2015