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Rights lawyers press govt to suspend 'draconian' provision of communications act

Lawyers for Liberty says an exact timeline for the amendments to the Communications and Multimedia Act must also be given.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil. Photo: Bernama
Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil. Photo: Bernama

Rights lawyers today urged the government to suspend the use of Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) 1998 following the announcement by Deputy Communications and Digital Minister Teo Nie Ching that proposed amendments to the law will be submitted to Parliament by early next year. 

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said an exact commitment must be given regarding the timeline for the amendments, with details to be discussed with stakeholders. 

"Most importantly, to prevent any further abuse and misuse of the CMA while the act is pending review in pParliament, we call upon the government to announce an immediate suspension of the use of Section 233 and all other draconian provisions of the CMA and impose a moratorium on enforcement or prosecution pending its repeal/amendment," it said.

Teo said on Sept 17 that the CMA was being reviewed by agencies under her ministry through engagements with the relevant stakeholders. 

"The ministry feels it is time for a review of the law to ensure the existing provisions are adequate to take action against any type of offence, particularly cybercrime. 

"If we are not able to table it (in Parliament) this year, we will do it next year," she said.

LFL said the amendments should be tabled at the next Parliament sitting, citing the ambit of Section 233 and its scope which it described as "wide" and "ill-defined". 

"Due to its subjective terms, leading to ambiguity to what is or is not an offence under the provision, it has been used to stifle speech and expression, to shut out contrary views, to quash dissent, to deny democratic space, and to suppress Malaysians.

"It is a serious encroachment on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 10(1)(a) of our Federal Constitution," it said. 

It added that none of the elements in the prohibition such as "indecent", "obscene", "false", "menacing", or "offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any person" were further defined in the act. 

"This creates a potentially endless category of offences, which are at the discretion of law enforcement to define as they see fit. 

"As such, under the CMA, anybody can be a target. What amounts to offences remains unclear," it said. 

LFL said the CMA had been repeatedly used to investigate and arrest those who criticise the government or the rulers on social media, citing a "resurgence" of its use over the past year. 

"This act deters even the highlighting of human rights abuses, breaches of law and even possible government wrongdoing," it added.

"A criticism of a statement of any government officials or anyone that is in the wrong can also be alleged to be false, menacing, annoying or even harassment."

Noting Pakatan Harapan's (PH) stand against the CMA prior to forming the government, LFL said repealing the provisions of the act was one of PH's promised reforms. 

"The government must urgently review the CMA to ensure that it conforms to international human rights standards and the constitution, and specifically for the Section 233 of the CMA to be thoroughly revised to more narrowly and precisely define what constitutes 'improper use of network facilities or services' under the act," it said.