BARELY a month ago, the Pakatan Harapan government announced that it was lifting its freeze on several controversial laws, including the Sedition Act.
As a newsman who waited outside police stations when Pakatan reps were being probed for sedition when they were the opposition, and stood in vigils for fellow journalists who were detained under that law, I have to say that seeing Pakatan politicians defend its use when they were the ones who pledged to undo it is disheartening.
I remember in 2015 when our former Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar started calling up random people on Facebook and Twitter for even breathing a word of negativity against former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and people got angry.
“Where is freedom of speech? Where is liberty?” Twitterjaya shouted.
How can we be a developing nation when even opinions online have to be policed?
That was three years ago. This week, three people were arrested for sedition after posting messages that were deemed to be insulting to Kelantan's Sultan Muhammad V, during the news cycle over his stepping down as Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
This development came after weeks of speculation over the King’s supposed marriage, something that has been widely reported by foreign media but has yet to be acknowledged or validated by Malaysia or Istana Negara, and a supposed rare unscheduled meeting among the country’s rulers days before Sultan Muhammad V stepped down.
He is the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong to step down.
Back to the arrests. I read what those three posted about the Sultan. Was it in poor taste? Yes, of course.
Does it warrant them being flayed in public, losing their jobs and being hauled up by police?
IGP Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun thinks so, alleging that such comments were “provocative” and could “manipulate the resignation of Sultan Muhammad V.”
Now the same people on social media who were up in arms over the arrests of anti-Najib tweeters are the ones pressuring the companies these individuals work for to fire them over silly postings and celebrating the fact that three, who as far as I can tell, are decent functioning members of society are now separated from their families and sitting in a lock-up – for social media postings.
“But they deserve it!” some might say. How dare they insult the King.
I am not going to defend what they said, but I am going to defend their freedom to say dumb things, no matter how dumb.
It may be disrespectful but the Sultan doesn’t need you to be offended for him.
Sultan Muhammad V’s short tenure as Yang di-Pertuan Agong has been the most impressive that I have experienced in my 28 years or so.
In fact, he is the only Yang di-Pertuan Agong whose name I can actually remember and whose work I am actually aware of.
He oversaw the first transition of government in our country’s history. He paved the way for Tommy Thomas to be the first non-Malay and non-Muslim to hold the highest public prosecutor seat in the country.
He cancelled his own birthday celebration and channeled the funds to Tabung Harapan, as the nation was grappling with the weight of debt left by past governments.
This man’s achievements speaks for itself. Tweets and FB comments aren’t going to undo the impact he has had in the country.
The police action against the supposed sedition-makers was not in reaction to a report lodged by the royals. As far as we know, there was no report coming from Kelantan or Istana Negara, at least not one the media could find. These reports came from the man on the street.
How do people have so much free time?
Really, they would have had to to take hours out of their day to be offended by social media postings and head to the nearest police station to demonstrate how offended they were by lodging police reports.
I envy people with that amount of time on their hands.
The deafening silence from the Pakatan Cabinet, especially those who voiced protests against the Sedition Act in the past, is maddening.
Last month, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo assured us that such acts would only ever be used if it related to matters that threatened “national security, public order and race relations.”
I would really like to know which area those boneheaded tweets and comments threaten?
The three tweets and comments did nothing to threaten the Sultan’s credibility or position. All they have done is show their lack of tact. They don’t deserve criminal action taken against them.
This isn’t a thesis against lèse majesté or thinking that the royals are beyond criticism. Those two topics are not relevant in this case.
This is an appeal to Malaysians to stop taking offence over insignificant things and claim it is in defence of a man who clearly needs no defending from us.
And on top of that, Malaysian need to stop being selective over what to be outraged about.
If you were outraged by the arrests during Najib’s time, why aren’t you outraged now? The hypocrisy is laughable.
This is also a plea to our politicians in government to know the difference between those that tweet recklessly and those whose language actually poses a significant threat to our peace and stability.
You’d think they would know, since some of them have been in the position these three are in now.