The Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee and the National Young Lawyers and Pupils Committee are organising a forum to discuss the constitutional and social issues arising out of the recent spate of criminal charges brought against individuals and websites that publish posts that are critical of the authorities.
In 2016, Fahmi Reza pleaded not guilty to a charge under section 233(1) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (“CMA”) for “improper use of network facilities or network service” relating to his posting on Facebook of a caricature of the Prime Minister. Fahmi Reza has since challenged the constitutionality of section 233(1) of the CMA for, inter alia, infringing the freedom of expression, and the matter is pending at the Federal Court.
Further, KiniTV and its director, Steven Gan, have claimed trial at the Sessions Court for airing allegedly offensive remarks against the Attorney General of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Haji Mohamed Apandi Haji Ali, on KiniTV’s website. Malaysiakini’s CEO, Premesh Chandran, also pleaded not guilty to a similar offence.
Throughout 2016 and 2017, there have been many investigations and charges brought against ordinary social media users for comments deemed to be insulting of the Malaysian royalty, and the Government’s handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (“1MDB”) scandal.
There are primarily two sections in law that we need to consider, ie section 233(1) of the CMA and section 505(b) of the Penal Code. Both have been criticised for being drafted too broadly, which make them susceptible to abuse by the authorities.
The objectives of the forum are:
- to provide a platform to critically analyse the constitutionality, viability, and necessity of section 233(1) of the CMA and section 505(b) of the Penal Code;
- to discuss whether the recent trend of criminal investigations and charges brought by the authorities have affected the freedom of expression and the state of democracy in Malaysia, with a particular emphasis on the role of social media in Malaysia; and
- to discuss whether there are instances that justify the use of such laws, with reference to other jurisdictions.
List of panellists:
(1) Jahabar Sadiq, Editor-in-Chief, The Malaysian Insight;
(2) Gayathry S Venkiteswaran, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Arts, University of Nottingham, Malaysia; and
(3) Nizam Bashir, Partner, Messrs Nizam Bashir & Associates
Co-Chairperson, Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee
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