GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government is taking a bold step towards freedom of speech by providing a Speaker’s Square at the Esplanade here for the public to air their views.
The square, which is located at the Millennium Square concrete stage near the seafront, is expected to draw social activists and members of non-governmental organisations to take the limelight and speak their mind.
Penang Local government and Traffic Management Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the public would be allowed to speak whatever they hold to be important every Wednesday and Sunday from 6pm to 9pm from May 9.
“It is for spontaneous demonstration of free speech as anyone can turn up unannounced and talk. Of course, you will have to wait until the person on the stage has finished before you go up to talk.
“There will be no PA system. So, those who wish to speak will have to bring their own equipment,” Chow said when contacted yesterday.
He said the state government hoped the square would serve as a new avenue for communication besides the use of SMSes, blogs, social networking sites and e-mail.
“Although our aim is to promote regulated freedom of speech, the public will have to be responsible on what they say.
“On one hand we may be promoting freedom of speech, but on the other, you still have to be mindful of the possible consequences,” he said.
Suara Rakyat Malaysia Penang branch coordinator Ong Jing Cheng said the idea for the Speaker’s Square was hatched when Universiti Malaya re-established its Speaker’s Corner in January.
“We are glad that the state government is taking the first move to encourage freedom of speech, which is a symbol of democracy, although we understand there are still limitations.
“We will inform the police in advance to avoid being arrested for illegal assembly. The stage is the best platform for us to speak out but police can still arrest us if anyone utters seditious remarks,” Ong said.
Describing the square as the “hardware”, he said he hoped the state government would go one step further by providing the “software” – freedom of information.
“We need information to analyse before we can comment,” he said, adding that a few members from Aliran, Sembang-Sembang Forum and Suaram would take the lead by speaking at the square this Sunday.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng will officially launch the square tomorrow.