Lawyers’ group says arrests over social media posts ‘shameful’, harks back to BN govt

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PETALING JAYA: Arresting people for merely posting “sensitive” comments on social media is “shameful” and harks back to the practices of the previous government, says Lawyers for Liberty (LFL).

Its director Melissa Sasidaran said LFL views with extreme concern the recent surge in online policing of social media posts that touch on sensitive issues such as race, religion and royalty.

She was referring to the arrest of four people for allegedly posting offensive comments regarding racial and religious issues on social media.

Former Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) youth chief and activist Khalid Ismath was among those detained for sedition after he allegedly posted a tweet aimed at Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah.

“These arrests are a serious assault on our freedom of speech which is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

“This fundamental right has a high threshold which also covers the freedom to speak about sensitive issues in Malaysia,” she said in a statement on Saturday (Sept 14).

She added that while some social media posts may be distasteful or considered offensive, the law should not be misused to prohibit such acts of expression as they do not cause any real harm that is normally prohibited by criminal law.

“Our current laws and restrictions on free speech are not clearly defined.

“Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act is too vague, and any person who makes an ‘offensive’ social media post is a potential criminal under this Act,” she said urging for clear, consistent and fair guidelines so that citizens do not unwittingly cross the line.

Melissa said comments should not be deemed criminal just because they touch on the royalty.

“It is for this reason that the Sedition Act must be abolished as the law is overly broad and vague where almost anything controversial can be construed as seditious,” she said.

She said the law should not be invoked merely to protect people’s feelings and sensitivities against social media as it is not only an abuse of power but also there would be no end to the number of such cases.

“Instead, non-legal solutions, such as educating society on proper social media boundaries and raising awareness about cyberbullying, would be more appropriate,” she added.

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