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Cops, govt slammed after teens arrested over video rants on SPM history paper

Lawyers for Liberty calls the police action excessive, saying it is a matter for the school and parents to take up.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
The two boys seen in a clip apologising for their earlier video.
The two boys seen in a clip apologising for their earlier video.

A group of human rights lawyers has condemned the arrest of two students following a video recording in which they criticise the history paper for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination for which they had just sat.

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said the manner in which the pair were arrested was shocking, and called for an explanation from Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, Communications Minister Fahmi Fadzil and Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek.

"We are deeply concerned that the actions of the police in this case will strike a chill in parents all across the country if left unaddressed and unrebuked," the group said in a statement.

It also experessed shock that the two boys were subjected to a police raid in their home in addition to a drug test. 

"This would have caused extreme trauma to them and their family. And all this over a video where they vented their frustrations on their SPM history paper."

The boys' arrest came amid criticism that the authorities are clamping down on free speech on social media platforms including TikTok, where individuals have been hauled up over comments attacking the government.

In the video that went viral, the two boys were heard swearing while mocking questions on Singapore history in the exam paper, saying they were not relevant for Malaysians.

They have since apologised for their actions.

Yesterday, Hulu Selangor police said they had arrested them based on a report lodged by a teacher, and that an investigation was launched under Section 233 of the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission Act, as well as under the Minor Offences Act which deals with "insulting behaviour".
LFL said the matter was something for the school and parents to deal with, not a police case.

"Even if there were unsavoury comments that were uttered, it does not warrant intervention by the police force. 
"They were just teenagers who were being childish and who had already apologised for the video that they made, yet they were treated like hardened criminals."

LFL also said that the use of Section 233 in nabbing the boys went against the promises of reform by Pakatan Harapan (PH).

"Members of the government should be well aware of how disproportionately wide Section 233 is in criminalising speech online, having been on the receiving end of it while they were in the opposition. 

"The fact that PH now indiscriminately wields the weapon that it once vehemently opposed smacks of George Orwell’s Animal Farm," it said, referring to the 1945 political satire.

LFL also reminded the authorities of the Federal Constitution's guarantee of freedom of expression.

"Though freedom of speech is not unfettered, the right is not something to be limited lightly. Criticism on the governments should not be criminalised, and childish vents by teenagers even less so. 

"Are we to subject every teenager to arrest and prosecution for simply ranting online? Is this what we have come to?"

PH had pledged to uphold media freedom and the freedom of speech in its manifesto for the 15th general election. 

It also vowed to abolish acts seen as oppressive by revising and repealing provisions that could be used to restrict the freedom of expression, including the Sedition Act, the Communications and Multimedia Act, and the Printing Presses and Publications Act.