Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Lawyers group slams charge against activist for post on treatment of refugees

Lawyers for Liberty says it is 'nonsensical' that such exposures could be detrimental to public order or morality.

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Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today called for the withdrawal of the charge against an activist for posting about the treatment of refugees at an immigration detention centre, accusing the government of unconstitutionally curtailing the right of freedom of expression guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.

LFL coordinator Zaid Malek also questioned the charge against Heidy Quah, calling it “utterly nonsensical” that such exposures could be detrimental to public order or morality warranting criminal prosecution.

“It is corruption and abuse of power by the authorities that are the real diseases that decay our democratic system,” he added.

“Any country that treats whistleblowers as criminals soon loses its moral legitimacy.”

Quah was charged in the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court on July 27 with the improper use of network facilities through the transmission of offensive communications on refugees in the country on her Facebook account.

The charge was framed under Section 233 (1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, which provides for a maximum fine of RM50,000, imprisonment for up to a year or both and a further fine of RM1,000 for each day the offence is continued after conviction.

Malek said Section 233(1)(a) was “one of the infamous provisions” used against activists and members of the public who speak out against the government or any of its agencies.

“The unusually wide and vague terms used in Section 233(1)(a) give overwhelming and excessive powers to enforcement authorities to decide what is ‘offensive’,” he added.

“Thus, the law has been wielded even against someone like Quah who was merely exposing the horrible conditions at immigration detention centres which is a matter of public interest.”

In a statement, he also reminded the government of its duty to uphold the constitution and protect the right of citizens to free speech.

“Even though said freedom is not absolute, the limitations imposed by the constitution do not curtail expressions of dissatisfaction and criticism against the government or any of its agencies,” he said.

“The government must therefore repeal draconic provisions such as Section 233(1)(a) and withdraw the baseless criminal charge against Quah immediately.”

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